Behavioural Science is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisations, development agencies, government ‘nudge’ units and more. This interview is part of a series interviewing prominent people in the field. And in today's interview the answers are provided by Bing Feng.
Bing is the associate director at the BEAR research centre (Behavioural Economics in Action at Rotman), and project manager of a large international consortium of academics and organizations called the Behaviourally Informed Organizations (BI-Org Partnership). Her work focuses on helping organizations embed and harness behavioural insights in their everyday processes. Bing is also a sessional lecturer at the University of Toronto and teaches the BEAR Laboratory Course in the Business Commerce Program. She holds an MBA degree from the University of Toronto and a BA in Economics from Western University.
Who or what got you into Behavioural Science?
I was trained in economics and worked in public policy and not-for-profit sectors for a few years. At one point, I was looking for a career change but didn’t quite figure out what exactly I wanted to do yet. I went back to school and did my MBA at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
Dilip Soman was teaching a course called Managing Customer Value in the core curriculum. Dilip and Nina Mazar also designed the first Behavioural Economics course at the Rotman School. Out of interest, I took all the BE-relevant courses available in the program and I loved all of them. Halfway through the two-year program, I was certain that I wanted to pursue a career in behavioural science.
I joined the BEAR team (Behavioural Economics in Action at Rotman) after the MBA and have been grateful to be part of the behavioural science community since then.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?
I see myself as a behavioural science practitioner. There are so many veterans in the field, and I’m still on the journey of learning.
I’m proud of managing a large international consortium of academics and organizations called Behaviourally Informed Organizations (BI-Org Partnership). At BEAR and through the BI-Org partnership, I have worked with more than 30 organizations and many amazing behavioural scientists. I believe more organizations will become behaviourally informed, and I look forward to working with many more of them in the future.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
In my spare time, I love Chinese calligraphy and painting. If I could turn my hobby into a career, I’d probably be a calligrapher or be doing something related to art.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
I think nobody enjoys reading lengthy emails, especially the ones with a big chunk of heavy text. I try to keep my email concise most of the time to avoid cognitive overload.
However, sometimes it’s unavoidable to compose a lengthy one. If that’s the case, I usually a) break the texts into shorter paragraphs or bullet points, b) highlight important information with a different font and size, and c) give a clear deadline for the actionable items and emphasize the deadline in the subject line, to make it easier to read.
I don’t know if people like receiving my emails, but I tried my best J From time to time, I will need to send reminders because we are all humans, and sometimes we just forget to click the reply button after reading the emails in our inbox.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
Be able to communicate with different audiences and stakeholders, including academics, policymakers, and business leaders.
As a behavioural science practitioner, I think one important role is to bridge the gap between academic research and business practices. In addition to mastering the fundamentals and methodology of behavioural science, it’s also critical to understand the business context and communicate the insights to non-technical stakeholders in a simple way.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
First, I think behavioural science will be applied in complex domains and policy areas. With the field now gaining broad acceptability, we expect behavioural science to play a bigger role in domains such as financial well-being, environment, sustainability, preventative health, and diversity and inclusion.
Second, I think behavioural science will be blended with other disciplines, including design thinking and machine learning. Both behavioural science and design thinking are in the business of developing empathy and using the test-learn-adapt approach. Going forward, we see machine learning being added to the mix. With its promise of detecting patterns from large datasets, machine learning could help detect behavioural patterns before they become systemic and hence prevent problems before they even occur.
What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field?
Be open-minded and have the desire to continue learning. We are very lucky to be in a field where everyone is so generous to share their knowledge, experience and learnings. I think young behavioural scientists could take advantage of the broad knowledge-sharing activity in the community, learn from those great minds, explore interesting research opportunities, and create new knowledge.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
I'd love read interviews by Abigail Goodnow Dalton (World Bank), Saugato Datta (ideas42) and Chiara Varazzani (OECD).
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Bing! The interview with Chiara is coming up and I'm working on Abigail and Saugato - promise!
As I said before, this interview is part of a larger series which can also be found here on the blog. Make sure you don't miss any of those, nor any of the upcoming interviews!