Broad, conscious, and concerted efforts to apply behavioral economics probably did not begin until sometime after 2008 with the release of Thaler and Sunstein’s book, Nudge. And then when new applications of behavioral economics started, they seemed to be mostly applied in the government space. While many principles of behavioral economics have preceded that and have been applied, I think the introduction of a popular science book and clever packaging helped the principles rise to a new level of consciousness.
Since then, the implementation of behavioral economics/science initiatives in business has started to grow, but it’s still somewhat early. Back in 2010, I was part of a team that started one of the early behavioral finance centers with one of the investment manufacturing firms in the United States. We introduced thought leadership materials like some of the other firms, but we also took it further by equipping financial advisors with specific tools to help assess the behavioral architecture of retirement plans offered by companies.
One key observation I’ve had is that certain companies can have different strategies for implementing behavioral economics. This can include wanting to do holistic innovation that touches on service, products, and applications. Or they can pursue narrower approaches, like research and thought leadership. I wrote a book, Inside Nudging: Implementing Behavioral Science Initiatives in 2016, mostly to help bridge the gap between science and the application in business. That work is based on my background in closely collaborating with academics in behavioral economics and companies looking to be on the cutting edge.
Here are a few examples of how the field of behavioral economics has touched business in my corner of the world relative to behavioral finance:
One concept that I describe in my recent book, Inside Nudging: Implementing Behavioral Science Initiatives, draws from Roberto Verganti. He uses the term, “Design-Driven Innovation.” I re-coin the concept as “Meaning-Driven Innovation” to ease the explanation a bit. The concept is that in order to innovate under such a framework, one needs to change the relationship between the product or service and the end user. In this framework, the designer must address the question, “what does the product or service mean to the end user?”
In my book, I describe how colleagues and I created an app to help retirees plan for their retirement journey with guidance from a financial advisor. This effort involved equipping financial advisors with some software tools (informed by the behavioral sciences) that they could use with retirees to help the retirees discover blindspots, form priorities and deal with cognitive/emotional difficulties, and reflect on risks more thoroughly. The upshot of our design approach was to try to change the relationship between the advisor and retiree. We wanted the advisor to mean more to the retiree than just a person involved with fees, funds, and fiduciary responsibility. We wanted advisors to evolve to become trusted financial and life advisors. See a figure from my book below:
The meta meaning that we played to one was about connection, creating a new connection between the advisor and retiree. There are other meta meanings to describe relationships with products and services though. For example, there can be products that help to transform people. Or there can be products whose design and meaning are to protect. Or products can be designed to make a person feel more in control.
In summary, one possible relationship between behavioral science, design, and innovation is about changing the meaning between products/services and people through use of behavioral science principles (whether these principles come from psychology, behavioral economics, or the like).
Inside Nudging is written for management professionals and scientists to feed their thinking and discussions about implementing behavioral science initiatives (which includes behavioral economics and finance) in business settings. Situations include the incubation of innovation centers, behavioral science overlay capabilities, and advancement of existing organizations. Companies need to develop grit – the ability and fortitude to succeed. The book introduces the Behavioral GRIT™ framework and covers key takeaways in leading an organization that implements behavioral science. Behavioral GRIT™ stands for the business functions related to Goals, Research, Innovation, and Testing.
The chapters are complemented by an appendix which covers ideas to introduce behavioral science initiatives. I argue that first a company needs to identify its goals and identify what type of predominant organization model it wants to pursue. There are five predominant organizational models I’ve seen. I also offer that a company should consider a number of implementation elements that may play a role during execution. Example elements include an advisory board and a behavioral science officer.
Note that the purpose of this book is not to teach people about behavioral science; there are many other books out there for those purposes. That said, Inside Nudging introduces some behavioral science concepts to provide context and help develop a common language between management professionals and scientists.
I see the application of behavioral science as still being in the early adoption phase. Many companies will benefit if they take time to develop the right approach. I hope Inside Nudging helps you with your journey.
The concept of nudging and more specifically the behavioral science phrase of “no neutral design” has strong historical ties to social and public sector issues. The motivation for the phrase goes something like this. We have to provide people with information and choices, such as part of governing a country and during driver’s license application processes, social security claiming processes, and hundreds (possibly even thousands) of other processes. During those processes, we present information and choices as part of designs, and there is some nudging which may influence people’s perceptions and choices in predictable ways. For example, when presenting a set of choice options in list format, a cognitive bias known as the primacy effect may be observed where people tend to be influenced more by the first option in the list. But some option has to be first in the list. So in this case we cannot totally avoid the risk of primacy effect biases. And more generally, we cannot avoid many other types of biases and influences studied in behavioral science. All forms of structure and designs affect behavior. Hence, there is no neutral design, and we need to be deliberate about the behavioral architecture surrounding the way things are designed.
These considerations also play a role in the private sector. And I see a lot of cases where companies may not be conscious about how behavioral science influences come into play simply because they weren’t thinking about them. And that’s the problem. It is a corollary to no neutral design. Because we design things in the private sector, we influence behavior. We can either be diligent to consider behavioral science considerations or not. In other words, we need to avoid accidental behavioral architecture in our designs. We need to navigate toward deliberate behavioral architecture.
Now we can’t predict how everything will turn out for a design through understanding behavioral science. However, we can get a lot smarter about things and about how to manage companies that can better implement and navigate behavioral science. That’s why I’m writing the book, Inside Nudging: Navigating Behavioral Science Applications. The book is not intended to explore detailed behavioral science principals as covered in other great books like Thinking, Fast and Slow (Kahneman 2013) or The Last Mile (Soman 2015). My real focus is to shed light on how behavioral science concepts are implemented in companies and how to get an organization further along the maturity curve in terms of implementation. These management considerations sometimes require a more detailed appreciation of behavioral science. For example, it is hard to really explore management considerations of behavioral science and ethics without delving into areas like System 1 versus System 2 thinking, nudge controllability, moral psychology, and the like. To implement behavioral science more effectively, companies need grit – the ability and fortitude to succeed. Behavioral GRIT™ is a key framework that I refer to in Inside Nudging, and it represents orchestrating companies relative to Goals, Research, Innovation, and Testing.
Inside Nudging: The Excerpts is available in paperback form for talks, workshops, and academic inquiries. The excerpt version of the book includes:
Chapter 1: Behavioral Science Centered Design in the New Black – This chapter both sets the foundation for deliberate behavioral architecture and the lenses that we need to examine company efforts through.
Chapter 2: Organizations Can Package Behavioral Science for Good – This chapter describes a case of using behavioral finance in the retirement plan design space.
Chapter 8: Nudges Refined, Ethics Examined, Acceptability Explored – This chapter introduces Nudge Psyche, a checklist of things to think about so that you can be deliberate about how you approach nudge design and ethics.
Appendix A: Ideas to Introduce Behavioral Science Initiatives – This appendix explores predominant organization models (such as an innovation center) and a number of implementation elements that may play a role during execution (such as an advisory board and a behavioral science officer position).
Thanks for reading. I welcome your companionship on this journey and your feedback. Visit www.InsideNudging.com for more info.
I’ve published an update to Inside Nudging: The Excerpts (in paperback form for talks, workshops, and academic inquiries). The update includes:
Chapter 2: Organizations Can Package Behavioral Science for Good – This chapter describes a case of using behavioral finance in the retirement plan design space. I use this case to demonstrate one example of what a successful innovation center might look like. I also provide a summary using the Behavioral GRIT™ framework, where GRIT stands for the business functions related Goals, Research, Innovation, and Testing.
Chapter 8: Nudges Refined, Ethics Examined, Acceptability Explored – This chapter introduces Nudge Psyche, a checklist of things to think about so that you can be deliberate about how you approach nudge design and ethics. It attempts to help design by thinking about things from two broad perspectives: nudge design and nudgee attitudes. This chapter has been one of the most difficult ones for me to write as it draws from a diverse set of research and literature areas including decision science, medical ethics, government, organizational behavior, behavioral science, and moral psychology. I have found the Nudge Psyche checklist to be very helpful though as implementation in the real world can get grey at times. The Nudge Psyche checklist can help one to tease apart the underlying issues.
The chapter excerpts are also complemented by Appendix A: Ideas to Introduce Behavioral Science Initiatives, which I quietly published earlier based on increasing interest by companies in learning about how to get started with behavioral science. I argue that first a company needs to identify its goals and identify what type of predominant organization model it wants to pursue. This may be an innovation center like I describe in Chapter 2. I also define four other predominant organizational models I’ve seen. I also offer that a company should consider a number of implementation elements that may play a role during execution. Example elements include an advisory board and a behavioral science officer.
As a final update, I plan to give a limited number of talks on Inside Nudging and co-host Behavioral Economics Workshops in conjunction with one of my colleagues and partners, Namika Sagara at Sagara Consulting. More information on the workshops can be found here.
I am co-hosting Behavioral Economics and Innovation Workshops in conjunction with one of my colleagues and partners, Namika Sagara at Sagara Consulting. The goals of these workshops are twofold. First, the workshops teach and demonstrate key behavioral economics (BE) concepts to participants. Second, the workshops provide an introduction to how companies can implement BE initiatives. In-class exercises and a mock innovation setting provide an experiential learning process for internalizing BE knowledge and skills. More information on the workshops can be found here.