Interview with Evelyn Gosnell

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 Evelyn Gosnell. Evelyn is Managing Director at Irrational Labs and frequent speaker in behavioral economics and consumer psychology. She also leads the Irrational Labs’ BE Bootcamp, an immersive training program for product leaders looking to use behavioral insights in product development. On top of all of this, Evelyn is also the Head of Product Development and Behavioral Science at Shapa, a health startup founded by behavioral scientist Dan Ariely. And if that wasn't enough, she is also a frequent guest lecturer at the Rady School of Business at UCSD. So let's hear it from Evelyn!

Who or what got you into Behavioural Science?

I was a product manager and stumbled upon it somewhat arbitrarily, but immediately found the insights very useful in my work. Essentially I thought to myself, “why haven’t we been using these incredible insights all along?” I now work at the convergence of the two fields, helping product people who work in health, wealth, and happiness create better products and services by using behavioral insights and methodologies.

What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist?

Building a trail-blazing bootcamp for product folks who want to learn more about behavioral science. While there’s an overwhelming amount of great literature out there, there isn’t a lot that teaches people how to apply them. And many product people don’t necessarily want to quit their jobs and go pursue an advanced degree. We at Irrational Labs have created a part-time program for product people who are interested in behavioral science specifically in the context of how to do their jobs better in very tangible ways. Again, there are volumes of great research out there - we created this experience for where the "rubber meets the road."

If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?

It depends on how you look at it. If being a behavioral scientist were not an option, I’d likely be some other kind of social scientist. I’m deeply curious about how we behave and what makes us tick.?

Have you heard of the exercise called “Nine Lives”? Imagine you have nine full lifetimes to live. If I had already lived a full lifetime as a behavioral scientist (which would be my first choice), what would I do next, with extra lives? Something entirely different. Maybe a dancer, or some kind of performer? Or a food critic. It seems like a winning proposition, to be paid to eat really good food!

How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?

One easy answer: ClassPass, to get me to work out. It’s basically the opposite of a gym and it’s great. I can’t stand to lose the credits I’ve already paid for so I will use them up before they expire - usually right before they expire.

More broadly, I tend to use a lot from the research on happiness. What does the field tell us? Focus on relationships, cultivate gratitude (I keep a journal), meditate, spend money on experiences over things (or that save you time). And this has been harder but I’ve learned to become more of a satisficer vs. maximizer.

With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?

For applied behavioral scientists, practice seeing behavioral science principles in real products all around you. Your phone should be full of examples - take screenshots, photos, etc. Every time you see one, ask yourself - is it well executed? Would I have done it differently? Would I have used a different principle, or just changed the execution of what they did? Get really good at flexing this muscle.

What advice would you give to someone new to Behavioural Science?

There are so many ways to build a career in behavioral science, try a lot of them. Are you interested in policy? The private sector? Within the private sector, do you want to be a generalist, such as myself? Or do you want to be in-house within a company? Within a company, do you want to be in a general behavioral science role and interface with multiple departments, or do you want to be in a specific product role and use behavioral science in your work? There are pros and cons to all of these; the best way to figure out what suits you best is by trying.

There still aren’t a ton of positions in the field yet, so it may take some creativity to get your foot in the door. The more you can show proof of your understanding of the issues and your ability to add value to solve problems, the better. I ran small experiments on my own way before I was hired at Irrational Labs. Learn by doing, and come to the table with that. 

Which other behavioural scientist would you like to read an interview by?

You’ve got a lot of great ones so far; I especially liked the ones with Cass Sunstein and George Loewenstein. How about Rory Sutherland? Julie O’Brien at WW or Elizabeth Kim at Spotify?

Thank you for these amazing answers Evelyn! With regards to your interview suggestions: Rory's interview will be published next week! And I will make sure to reach out to both Julie and Elizabeth. More interviews every Monday, make sure to keep up to date with Money on the Mind!