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 Helle Bro.
Helle Bro is founder and CEO of bro a leading consultancy agency in Denmark. bro is a hybrid between traditional corporate communication, organizational development, and behavioural design. With a team of 25 consultants and behavioural design experts, their focus is on changing organisations. They advise public and private companies across Europe and North America with preparing organisational strategies, developing management or their team and analyzing the frictions for a particular behavior among employees. Finally, Helle is a part-time lecturer at Copenhagen Business School and holds several board positions.
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
I recognised a need for behavioural science in my work, advising executives on strategic communication and organisational change. Both disciplines strive to impact people, make them feel seen and motivate them to act. I considered it vital for success to understand the human mind, behaviour, and culture among the people we wanted to affect. Oftentimes, this is somewhat of a missing link with many leaders and teams, fortunately behavioural science offers a perspective that strengthens this awareness.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?
20 years ago, I founded my own company and even though ambitions were high, I could not have imagined that bro would grow into a leading agency within behavioural science and organisational management.
Today we are the trusted advisor, leaders turn to when they want to replace buzzwords and clichés with actions and ambitions, allowing their strategies to be both visionary as well as specific and tangible.
I am truly proud that we are a preferred workplace for so many brilliant minds that further the acknowledgement of behavioural science, while facilitating and developing strategies for high stakes clients. E.g., when they accentuate qualitative insights about culture, dynamics, and behaviour in the organisation or make clients aware of the limitations of the human mind and how to account for it when communicating with employees and leading change.
Just think of the potential of all stalled strategies that end up on the shelf because human irrationality was not considered in the development phase or in how people would implement it in their everyday life. In other words, there is still plenty to accomplish.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
Very likely a criminologist. To those thinking this is a response to the current true crime hype, you are sadly mistaken. This was way before the Serial podcast and Making A Murderer. I considered studying criminology back in the early 90s. I was fascinated by crime from a social perspective and studying it as a social construct. Naturally, this is very far from my everyday life – I do not get to solve many murders – but I suppose the analytical approach to people, their mind and behaviour stuck, though in a quite different setting.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
I do yoga in the morning before work, and I am usually very optimistic about the one-hour of exercise whilst lying in bed the night before. However, when the alarm goes off at 6am, it is frankly hard to accomplish. So, I place my yoga mat and clothes on the floor – ready to use – before I go to bed.
This might seem an arbitrary example, however it is a practice where I am made aware of my human irrationality and try to take this into account when planning my day. As a result, I create “the path of least resistance” right there on the bedroom floor to accomplish my goal. There are plenty of examples like this to choose from.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
A wonderful thing about behavioural science is that the field consists of people with a broad range of skills and academic backgrounds working together. I remind managers to build organisations of different skillsets and I reap the benefits as a business owner myself.
But more specifically, I would recommend aspiring behavioural scientists to stay curious, especially when it comes to the human mind. Our knowledge is still very limited, so there is much to learn. And finally, to maintain and further their critical thinking – whether in a scientific context or on the corporate scene, this is an increasingly valuable asset.
What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field?
We have already established the importance of staying curious and continuously furthering your critical thinking. On a more practical note, I would advise that you never underestimate your own position in the data collection process. This is especially true when you carry out qualitative work or testing. Your demeanour will determine whether you succeed in getting people to open up, relax or ignore your presence altogether. Therefore, make sure to reflect on your own impact and consider how you can adapt to the situation you are examining.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
Time and time again we meet the perspective that behavioural science is the answer to everything, a “one size fits all”. We are gradually establishing how this is not the case and how a more nuanced perception is required.
In bro for instance, we prioritise spending a lot of time in the insights phase, building knowledge about the people and context we want to change through behavioural science. This is essential, as we are painfully aware that different people may react differently to nudges, and how a specific type of nudge may work well in one context, while having no effect in another. Applied behavioural science would benefit from establishing this even further in the future.
Moreover, I look forward to behavioural science being more recognised in increasingly complex areas than seen today. An example is leadership and organisational wellbeing. Only few are working with behavioural science in these areas, but the potential is vast.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
My team just attended the BSPA 2021 conference on bridging divides & changing minds with behavioural science. So, several keynote speakers are currently topic of lunchroom conversations. It could be Adam Grant on his new book about staying openminded and rethinking your assumptions. That is an interview, I would love to read.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Helle I'm glad to know about all the good work being done by bro up in Denmark!
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!