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 Charlie Nixon.
Charlie is a Behavioural Architect at Cowry Consulting, one of the largest business focused applied behavioural science consultancies in the industry. As a Behavioural Architect, Charlie applies his knowledge and expertise in psychological principles, behavioural models and frameworks to optimise customer and employee experiences. He is also a keen Behavioural Memester, creating behavioural science memes for the wider community. Given his meme capability, let's see how well he does in an interview!
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
My behavioural science journey started during my second year of my undergraduate degree. Back in 2017, I was looking to work with a business to complete my ‘placement year’ which formed part of my degree. After failing to find an organisation which would’ve been a good fit for me, I decided to go straight into my final year of study picking up some additional modules to make up the credits.
One of these unplanned modules was behavioural economics. Throughout secondary school, I’d done business & economics and psychology so the prospect of combining them intrigued me, despite having a limited knowledge of the mixture of the two. This module was my ‘lightbulb moment’. I’d never been able to sit in a lecture and relate with new concepts so well, how I could recall all these different biases and heuristics to my own choices.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?
Over the last year or so I’ve worked very closely with a number of clients in the vulnerable customer space. Specifically, looking at how organisations can empathise and support customers considered to be vulnerable in the best way possible.
This is led to a series of different literature reviews and behavioural interventions looking into what it’s like to feel vulnerable, and how this can affect your decisions. I’m proud of these pieces of work because it gives me great joy to know that the insights that myself and the team are sharing with clients is going to help hundreds of thousands of customers to access support where and when they need it.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
If I wasn’t a behavioural scientist, I’d probably be working as a barista (ideally) owning my own small coffee shop. I worked at a small coffee shop / deli in Derbyshire for 5 years whilst I was growing up in Sheffield. I really enjoyed making coffee and found it somewhat therapeutic to go through the process of stamping the coffee, steaming the milk, and crafting the perfect pour.
Working for myself is something I that intrigues me looking forward in my career as a behavioural scientist, and I’d most likely be doing the same in the coffee space.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
There are a couple of insights which I do apply to my own life. These primarily revolve around health and fitness or work. One key insight that I apply on a daily basis is around cognitive overload and the food that I eat.
Usually when I’m having a busy week at work, or trying to reach a specific fitness goal, I eat the same foods daily. This is partly because of the nutritional value in these foods, but it also means that I don’t have to have expend additional mental energy to think about what I’m having for tea, or what to make for lunch the next day. I was inspired by this idea from Barack Obama when he was in office. During this time, he would wear either a blue or grey suit to reduce the number of decisions he needs to make, focusing on the more important ones. Not that I’m making decisions that affect a whole country, but it allows me to effectively focus my cognitive effort on more pressing things.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
This Isn’t an exhaustive list, but three skills I think are needed as an applied behavioural scientist are:
Intrigue: Any behavioural scientist needs to have an underlying interest in why people behave in certain ways and identifying why this is the case. I often find myself looking at peoples behaviour in the world or a restaurant menu, questioning how and why people are behaving in a certain way or why the menu has been designed in such a way. This intrigue is pivotal for unpicking behavioural driers and barriers to the influence wider behaviour change.
Creativity: Often, people are really good at spotting behavioural problems, but don’t say how to overcome them. Having the creativity to not only identify behavioural barriers and interventions, but to also visualise how this looks in the real world.
Passion: Even though the field is growing, behavioural science is still relatively new in the private sector. What this means is that some clients may know a little bit about behavioural science, or nothing at all. Being able to show your passion for behavioural science is key to win over potential clients to show them the value of the insights it can bring for their business.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
I think there will be 2 key developments in the field over the next 10 years or so:
More in-house behavioural science: It has already started in some of the larger organisations around the world, but over the next decade more and more businesses will be looking to grow their own behavioural science capability.
Hyper-personalisation: I definitely see a movement towards hyper personalised nudges, where each individual customer gets a specific set nudges based on their preferences. With the increasing amount of data companies can access, this surely can be done (hopefully or the benefit of the customer!).
What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field?
I’d recommend two things for any young behavioural scientist:
Reach out to people: The worst thing that can happen is you don’t get a response. Talking to people in the in industry will give you valuable insights into how behavioural science organisations apply behavioural science, and what skills you may need to develop to stand a class above other candidates.
Show your passion: There’s a lot of smart and intelligent people interested in behavioural science. So what makes you stand out? Being genuinely intrigued by the human mind and how it interacts with the world. Show your passion by applying behavioural science to more abstract areas of the world. This will show your drive and applying insights in addition to your creativity with biases and heuristics.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
Raphy March: Raphy is the Chief Design Officer at Cowry Consulting and would be an amazing behavioural scientist to interview. Specifically, sharing her insights about behavioural design at Cowry and how this differs to wider perceptions of behavioural design in the field.
Noemi Molnar: I know Noemi from the Cowry Consulting Summer School. She’s now the Chief Behavioural Officer at BeHive Consutling and is doing some amazing work with her team based in Budapest.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Charlie!
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!