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 Helena Rubinstein.
Helena is a highly experienced behavioural scientist with a background in social psychology. She has worked in advertising, corporate communications, branding, and innovation. In 2014, she founded the behavioural science team at Innovia Technology, an innovation consultancy based in Cambridge, UK. During her time at Innovia, Helena has worked on behaviour-led innovation programmes across a wide range of sectors including encouraging people not to drink and drive for Heineken, improving the boarding experience for staff and employees at Southwest Airlines, and helping people to stop smoking for a large pharmaceutical company.
Helena continues to work on behaviour change programmes for innovation and is a frequent speaker and writer on the topic. She is also passionate about bringing on the next generation and lectures on behavioural science at the University of Cambridge and City University, London.
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
I had been working in advertising, branding and communications, so had been thinking and working in the field of human behaviour for many years (without really being much aware of it). I decided that it would be useful to better understand the theory so went back to university to do a PhD in social psychology - this took me to areas of health psychology and to working on getting people to be vaccinated for pandemic flu. When I went back to the commercial world I worked out that the thinking could be applied to business challenges and the rest, as they say, is history
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?
Setting up a world-beating behavioural science team from scratch in a company that had not experienced this before and successfully promoting behavioural science to clients who had never heard of behavioural science before …and getting them to take it seriously and use it well. I want to make sure that we continue to maintain standards and progress the thinking - and to do this ethically
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
I would be a ballet dancer or pilates teacher!
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
Not sure this is conscious any more. I know that I am more likely to consciously think about how to make requests of people in a way that they will hear and respond to the message, and to take more time to consider the context of why people are responding in the way they do
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
Be genuinely interested in people and what they say and do. If this is not the case, behavioural science is not for you
Observe people and behaviour in action
Underpin your enthusiasm with knowledge - read some stuff, study - academically where possible
Be critical - question research data, ask yourself what confounding factors might be at play, ask how this could be better
Be curious - look for ideas outside the sector you operate in - your will find that more likely than not this has been done before somewhere else
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
I expect that most companies will have incorporated behavioural science into their thinking, some will have formal behavioural science functions
We will have more information and evidence of what works and what doesn’t
We will be a real profession
What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field?
See skills requirement above
Asking to do internships with reputable organisations (like Innovia)
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
Someone putting theory into practice e.g., Dr Caroline Wood at BUPA
Academics who are learning from the commercial world
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Helena!
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!