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 Fabio Tadashi. Fabio is an applied behavioural science practitioner in Brazil, working out of Sao Paulo. He’s currently working on behavioural challenges applied to sales and marketing in b2b, across a broad range of sectors. He is partner of V2V, a boutique sales and marketing consultancy and co-founder of neoxs, a sales training startup, where he leads the psychological and behavioral science research. Previously to this role, Fabio has been Head of Culture and Transformation at Vivo, the leading telco in Brazil, where he applied several behavioural insights to drive organizational change. His unanswered questions led him to dive deeper into the Behavioural Science field and to his MSc in Social and Cultural Psychology at the LSE.
Who or what got you into behavioural science? I’ve got into the field almost by accident. I am very curious by nature and I love broadening my interests, even if only to find unlikely associations between ideas or borrowing concepts from one discipline to explain another. And once I find something that intrigues me, I tend to dive in that rabbit hole. This is how I started reading about Daniel Kahnemann and Richard Thaler and nudges, after reading Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s books and digging deeper into the footnotes and references. Right around this time, a friend of a friend just returned from a Behavioural Economics graduate course in Nottingham U, willing to help popularize the field in Brazil with the help of a website. I offered to help as a volunteer, doing some proofreading, translating some essays, and talking to some academics. I was doing this at the same time I was working in my start-up, which felt like a case study in every possible decision-making mistake and bias. After we failed to gain traction, I wanted to take a break and to learn more about Behavioural Science, so I picked the UK and the LSE as destination. My hunch was that being there I would have easier access to great like-minded people and broaden my possibilities. After long years in the business world, having candid conversations with top researchers and practitioners was very stimulating and helped steer my path back to the business world, but now with a bit more of knowledge on the science aspect of behaviour.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve? I don’t think I have anything I could call an accomplishment, as far as can tell. For me, Behavioural Science is as fascinating as it is frustrating sometimes. I see how even the top scientists are still baffled by irrationality and failures in well-thought-out interventions. As for future goals, I’d love to contribute to non-WEIRD science, collaborating in initiatives in the global south, beyond the business world. When I see what people like Neela Saldanha is doing in India, I see we still have so much to do. For now, I’d love to keep testing ideas to help closing the researcher-practitioner loop and the business world is a great place to achieve that.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
That’s a very good question. Probably I would be doing the same, but with more focus in organizational topics, such as corporate culture. This might be a severe case of hindsight bias, but I really like to look back to my career choices as a string of experiments in which I learned something about judgement and decision-making and human behaviour.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
I’ve been trying to test different kinds of interventions in two areas: how I handle my money and how I keep myself in good shape. It’s been hit and miss, as I expected, but to make small experiments to improve or gain more control over specific areas of my life has been great. I’ve had some good results with BJ Fogg’s Behaviour Model to eat healthy, investing my money by being aware of what prospect theory says about risk-taking and applying Kate Milkman’s idea of temptation bundling to exercise more often. It’s been interesting.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? There are three skills I find to be invaluable not only to be a good behavioural scientist, but also to be a good professional in just about every walk of life.
The first skill is to be curious. There’s no downside in being able to rethink assumptions and being ready to be wrong. I love Frances Frei’s (HBS professor) notion that judgement and curiosity can’t coexist.
The second skill is to be willing to experiment. Most of the great learning experiences I have had only happened when I decided to make experiments. Even though I like to think my ideas are elegantly put together, only when I put them to test that I was able to refine them and find new gaps to be filled with new research.
The third skill is to be able to think probabilistically.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
I’d like to give a macro and a micro perspective in my answer, knowing full well that forecasting is a really, really difficult task. On the macro level, I think behavioural science will have to deal with the aftermath of overpromising and underdelivering in so many contexts, from business to public policy. The COVID-19 crisis is a good example of how layered and complex it is to deal with behaviours in real life. On the micro level, I see behavioural science going even further into the mainstream of business settings, as AI and other technologies become more ubiquitous. This is happening already, and I hope to see a much more nuanced and mature discussion around ethics and the weaponization of behavioural science too. This is connected to the very first lecture I attended at the LSE. I remember that David Halpern, head of UK’s Behavioural Insights Team signed my copy of his book writing “nudge with humility & for good”.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by? Even though most of them don’t even call themselves “behavioural scientists, it is always a treat to hear Richard Thaler, Daniel Kahneman, Gerd Gigerenzer, Robert Shiller and George Loewestein. I’d also love to hear from Katy Milkman, Stephen Reicher, Adam Grant, Angela Duckworth and some perspectives from Rory Sutherland, Neela Saldanha and David Halpern.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Fabio!
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!