Interview with Jeff Kreisler
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 Jeff Kreisler.
Jeff is a Princeton trained lawyer turned comedian, but within the behavioural economics community will be best known for being the Editor-in-Chief of PeopleScience.com, a new thought-leadership platform for applying behavioural science to the modern marketplace. Moreover, you are likely to have read at least one of his books. His first being the satire Get Rich Cheating and his second, co-authored with Dan Ariely, being Dollars And Sense: How We Misthink Money and How To Spend Smarter. Jeff uses behavioural science, real life and humor to understand, explain and change the world. So let's see how he answers these questions!
Who or what got you into Behavioural Science?
Typical route ;) – I earned degrees in Economics, Politics and Russian Studies from Princeton University, went to a top law school then, after passing the California Bar Exam became a stand up comedian. Of course. Talked/wrote/thought about politics and economics in my act and work. Got a job writing a weekly humor column about finance and business and started to see deeper patterns about incentives, conflicts of interests and our malleable mental judgment. In 2009 I wrote a book – a satire! – called “Get Rich Cheating” – which was all ultimately about, as I put it, “how money (expletive)s with our heads”… i.e. how money makes us do unethical, immoral and irrational things. I thoroughly researched the methods and actions of the likes of Enron, Bernie Madoff, Donald Trump, steroid users, showbiz scammers and more… but didn’t stumble across “behavioral economics.” The book did well… well enough that Dan Ariely – hope your readers know him –- got a copy and invited me to speak to his class of graduate business students at Duke. I did so, in character, pro-cheating… and it was turning point for me. I’d always viewed human decision-making as susceptible to forces like money and the emotion it engenders, but considered that just a casual observation on my part. Suddenly, meeting Dan and learning about the work of he and his colleagues and peers and the whole field of behsci I was like, “Holy crap! There’s a science to this! Awesome.”
The typical comedian says, “Did you ever notice people do this silly thing?” And the behavioral scientist tries to answer, “Yes, and this is why?” Once I found that yin-yan connection, I was hooked.
Dan is, as you may know, a very generous man and he was kind enough to bring me and my perspective – and perhaps my experience making ‘complex’ ideas more accessible and engaging? – on board with some smaller projects until, in 2017, we published “Dollars and Sense” a book about behavioral economics and financial decision making and, well, here we are.
Shorter answer: Dan Ariely’s kindness and society’s culture of cheating.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist?
Tie between everything we’ve built at PeopleScience.com and writing “Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter”… published in like 22 countries. Amazing.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
More comedy, more pretending to be a modern Don Quixote, jumping on a donkey and charging windmills while yelling to everyone, “Look at the hypocrisy and self-interest! Look at the deeper reasons why things happen and what might happen next! Look at this chance to think more critically about life! And, just for an easy laugh, look at this donkey’s butt!”
How do you apply behavioural economics/science in your personal life?
I think a lot more critically about my financial decisions… though I can’t say I make better ones. I also try to think about the incentives and motivation of everyone with whom I interact, whether it’s my family or peers or just casual encounters. What is their identity, how can I provide autonomy and purpose, what will give them with value and meaning and a desire to proceed. I also drink more wine than I used to.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
Patience, perspective and a sense of humor.
More concretely, a mix of these two articles I published on PeopleScience.com: How to get into Behavioural Economics and To PhD or not to PhD.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
I think the field on the upswing, but we’re swinging on a pendulum. I think in the next few years there will be wider adoption of behavioral thinking and design throughout industry and society… but also a few missteps that will create a backlash and cause the pendulum to swing back a bit. That said, I know that 99.9% of the people working in the field and thoughtful, conscientious and filled with the best of intentions to improve people’s lives… so whatever backlash may come will serve to strengthen our methodologies, connections, services and value. In 10 years, I believe every facet of society will be imbued with some element of behavioral science thinking and I am VERY EXCITED ABOUT IT!
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
All of them. Any of them. I want to get as broad and deep a perspective on the field as possible. That’s what PeopleScience.com is all about and that’s why I’m all about now, too…
Thank you so much for these amazing answers Jeff! Law, comedy and behavioural science, who knew it would work this well?! 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!