Gathered together in a snug area of a busy central London pub, people are enjoying a drink and nibbling on some crisps, enthusiastically chatting to one another. So far, so normal. But when you get within earshot of this group, you realise something surprising: they are all talking about things like irrationality, randomised controlled trials, social norms and cognitive biases…
The pub-goers in this scene all have an interest in behavioural science, very broadly defined (including behavioural economics, social psychology, cognitive- and decision science), and are at the London Behavioural Economics Network (LBEN) Meetup , often called Behavioural Boozenomics or Behavioural Boozeday Tuesday by some of the regulars. This Meetup was initiated by Oliver Payne, author of Inspiring Sustainable Behaviour: 19 ways to ask for change, about a year ago, and has proved popular right from the start.
I am a regular – I attend every month and enjoy it every time. I have been pleased, but not necessarily surprised, at the range of people who attend these Meetups. But it occurs to me that I am somewhat biased. Because I love behavioural science, it is hard for me to realise that not everyone else does, or that some people may not realise the breadth of its application.
Two things happened recently which opened my eyes to this. The first was that I invited an RSA colleague to attend with me. My colleague, with a fresh set of eyes and different perspective, immediately remarked that she hadn’t expected such a variety of careers to be represented at the gathering. Her comment helped me to realise my own biased perspective.
The second comment was from someone I met for the first time that night. He is a behavioural finance ‘hobbyist’, and a financial analyst by profession. We were discussing the potential benefits and drawbacks of formally studying (e.g. getting a degree in) behavioural economics or other behavioural science. At one point he asked “But what can you do with it after?!?”
Together, these comments make me think that perhaps it would be helpful to outline the range of careers that could benefit from an improved understanding of human nature, calling on insight from behavioural science.
So, here is a non-exhaustive list of the types of people who generally attend the event, and my interpretation of why they do so or how behavioural insight can support their career:
- Marketers / advertisers: to understand customer motivations.
- Hobbyists: because there are so many great books out there! (my favourite has to be Predictably irrational; the one I’ve just started reading is Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behaviour; and on my wishlist is Blindspot: Hidden biases of good people)
- Market researchers: upon realising that people are great at post-rationalising their own behaviour, can be swayed by group-think in focus groups, and often act differently to their intentions – rendering some, if not much, of traditional market research misinformed.
- Consultants: those making a career out of helping other organisations successfully use behavioural insights to achieve business objectives.
- Policy makers: thinking about how to design policies to promote maximum adherence.
- Financial sector (banks): helping customers understand cognitive biases and psychological barriers to saving, and how to mitigate them.
- Financial sector (advisers): understanding clients’ spending, saving, and investing behaviour.
- Financial sector (investors): understanding their own behaviour, perhaps trying to gain insight into how best to beat the market.
- Communications professionals: sharing expertise of which uses of language and types of phrases can spur someone to action.
- Academics: to discuss theory and methodology, find potential collaborators, and generate ideas for experiments.
At the RSA in the Social Brain Centre we use behavioural insight to inform our exploration of behaviour change –such as replacing car journeys with cycling, changing taxi drivers’ driving habits to improve their fuel efficiency, improving personal savings, and much more.
And, behavioural science can be useful in other areas as well, such as health (where obesity and adherence to medication are big topics), education (where framing and cognitive biases in the classroom, student and teacher incentives, and psychological barriers to collaboration should be explored), and human resources (where incentive structures, relative salary, and motivation are all important). It would be fantastic to have some people representing these various fields to round out the attendee list and extend the already-wide breadth of discussion which takes place at these evenings.
I’d be really interested to hear from readers: Where is behavioural insight most relevant in your career? If you are currently studying (or have in the past) a related field, what career do you hope to go into with it (or how have you applied it to your job now)?
And finally, I hope to see you at the next LBEN Meetup!