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 Dan Bennett. Dan is the Consulting Director of Behavioural Science Practice at Ogilvy Consulting. Dan joined the practice at its commencement in 2012, and has worked on over 80 of the worlds major brands & organisations since. Not only is he a great consultant, he is also a very sought after speaker. Dan has been invited to speak to audiences in over 20 countries about the unseen opportunities behavioural science brings. Most notably, he is instrumental in helping to curate the world's largest festival of Behavioural Science (Nudgestock) since it began eight years ago. So let's hear what Dan has to say!
Who and what got you into behavioural science?
Growing up I saw that people who were most at peace were the ones that seemed to spend a long time introspecting and understanding themselves. I have a lot of respect for those who make an effort to know themselves and to understand others, which fundamentally are the building blocks of behavioural science.
And on a more commercial level, from the first time I heard that supermarkets put the bread and milk at the back of the store in order to increase their sales, I was hooked.
My window into the ‘behavioural science industry’ was whilst I was doing a psychology degree where I stumbled upon Rory Sutherland and Dan Ariely on TED. Instantly I was mesmerised and it was a relief to know you could do something (what I considered) a bit more fun, creative and (on occasion) frivolous with your psych degree compared to all the heavy stuff.
(True story, when I originally applied to do my A-levels I wanted to do philosophy so I applied to do just that. About 6 weeks into the course I spoke to my friend and he was telling me about his philosophy class and it was only then it dawned on me that I wasn’t in that class and I had instead accidentally taken psychology by mistake. Fifteen years later I couldn’t be happier about choosing the wrong class.)
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist?
I was the founding behavioural scientist on the United for Healthier Kids movement, which goes round the world market by market pulling together food manufacturers, celebrities, influencers, tv producers and more to tackle the food challenges of the nation. In my time on the project we tackled obesity in Mexico and malnutrition in the Philippines. We created reality tv shows which became emmy nominated, created a suite of new behaviour changing products for the home, created songs with Latin American MTV celebrities, an online platform that got more engagement than Michelle Obamas let’s move initiative … and that was just in 12 weeks in Mexico.
The program became a blue print for markets far and wide as Europe and Dubai and it was one of the first times I’d saw behavioural science at the heart of a huge cross collaboration of skill sets. Learning how behavioural science fits with other disciplines I still believe is crucial for its long-term success.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
That’s a very easy one, I’d be an airline pilot. Several years ago I was onboard a flight not going quite right. The oxygen masks dropped down, the plane was in chaos and ever since I’ve been fascinated with how planes fly. It turns out there’s a lot of behavioural science in how we keep our planes in the sky too. There are a lot of fields that could benefit with more psychologists … but aviation certainly got there first.
How do you apply behavioural economics/science in your personal life?
The COM-B framework comes in handy in my personal life at least three times a week. Knowing whether somebody is or isn’t doing something because they don’t have the capability, the motivation, or the opportunity tends to solve a lot of problems … and can help to bring a lot more empathy to the table.
Also, knowing about “Buridan’s Ass” also tends to help me every week. It’s the concept that the opposite of a good option can also be a good option. It’s not always the case that we have a good option and a bad option on the table. And a lot of decisions can be hard to make because we have two good (ish) ones in front of us. You should always know when you’re in Buridan’s Ass … now that’s life advice.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
In terms of the practitioners of behavioural science, I think there are a lot of people out there that know a lot about a little, but the skill to being a practitioner that can truly apply their craft is to know a little about a lot. As a practitioner I think it’s quite rare you’ll be in a situation where you won’t now be working with others outside of your skill-base to achieve your desired outcomes. So a core requirement of a practitioner is to be able to translate behavioural science to those outside of the field … and also be good at working people that don’t think like you!
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
The discipline will focus on objectives more closely linked to behaviour change than outcomes harder to measure such as attitude change (i.e. UX, government initiatives, organisational internal change will all thrive etc)
The in-house model of ‘behavioural science teams’ within client organisations will continue to grow, especially in silicon valley where the returns can be more easily calculated and defended.
Design Thinking firms and product designers will all formally have behavioural science practitioners within their teams, as it’ll better differentiate their offerings.
AI will start to hold and work with big databases of digital interventions … and better inform the psychological theory as to which principles stand up under scrutiny (but we will never ‘crack the code’).
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
Thank you so much for these amazing answers Dan! Interviews with Sam and Rory have just been uploaded before this interview, but I'll make sure to reach out to Juliet and Helen!
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!