Behavioural Science is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisation, 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 Bri Williams.
Bri Williams is one of Australia's leading authorities on behavioural influence. She's a CPA with a degree in Applied Psychology, and founded People Patterns in 2011, a specialist consultancy that helps businesses get staff, customers and stakeholders to take action. Prior to this she worked in finance, HR and product management for some of Australia's leading brands. Bri is also a regular contributor to Smartcompany and MarketingMag, Bri has written five books including "Behavioural Economics for Business" and "The How of Habits" and appears regularly as a presenter, panellist and media commentator.
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
It was Christmas in 2008. My brother gave me a book that would go on to change my life - Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. It came at a time when I was increasingly frustrated in my work in the corporate sector because we would commission a lot of research to understand our customers, but none of it actually gave us the insights we needed to influence outcomes. So I read Dan’s book and the penny dropped. This field of behavioural economics was the perfect fusion of what I had studied - psychology and finance, and gave me the key to unlock how people really make decisions.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?
Undoubtedly I’m most proud of being lazy, scared and overwhelmed. You are too, by the way Merle, and you, dear reader. By that I am referencing my model for understanding and applying behavioural science to business and personal effectiveness - the Williams Behaviour Change Model. In short, getting people (or ourselves) to do something means designing to overcome laziness (we prefer the path of least resistance), fear (we prefer to avoid loss) and overwhelm (we get confused if provided too many options). Bringing this way of thinking about change into the lives of my clients and readers is what I love about my work. It makes behavioural science accessible and practical (and fun!) There’s lots I still want to achieve, and it is all based around making life easier for people with behavioural science. I love the creative process of turning hard science into easy application.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
It was a leap of faith for me to leave the security of the corporate sector around 11 years ago to start my own business, People Patterns. I’m sure if I had stayed I would have continued to apply behavioural science somehow, whatever role I held. I find whatever your qualification or designation, what you are truly interested in usually bubbles to the surface.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
I apply behavioural science to every aspect of my personal life. In fact I wrote The How of Habits a few years ago because I wanted to overhaul my own behaviour, and so far I have used various strategies to wean myself off coffee, adopt a plant based diet, switch to a left handed mouse although I am right handed, use a stand-up desk and exercise everyday. Wow, I sound insufferable!
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
I’ve noticed that behavioural scientists come from many and varied fields. We’re all drawn by a curiosity about how and why people behave the way they do. In terms of particular skills, being able to interpret the science and identify the “so what?” is important. Empathy - the ability to step out of yourself and see an issue from someone else’s point of view, is very helpful, and a combination of creative thinking (conceptualising the problem and imagining solutions) and analytical (diagnosing what’s happening and why), will serve you well.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
Behavioural science has been enjoying a golden moment and has effectively become mainstream. It’s now rare to come across a business that doesn’t have some interest in what the field can provide. While in the short term we may see more “Chief Behavioural Officers” and the like, I believe in 10 years the field will be subsumed within business as usual rather than split out as its own special function. It will be democratised, so to speak, and just be part and parcel of how people navigate the world and each other. I’d love to see children learning about behavioural science - or perhaps more correctly, how we are wired to make decisions - from an early age so they can better manage themselves and their relationships with others.
What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field? Connect with people in the field through LinkedIn and follow them on Twitter, set up Google alerts on topics you are interested in and share what you read. Most of all, don't worry if you don't start in your dream job. In my experience, you can apply behavioural science to any job in any organisation, whether or not it's in the job title!
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
I'd love to hear from Neale Martin, whose book "Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore" had a profound impact on me years ago when I was working in product development, and Koen Smets, the self proclaimed "accidental behavioural economist" whose twitter feed I relish.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Bri! And I've already had the pleasure of interviewing Koen, you can read that here.
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!
Keep your eye on Money on the Mind!