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 Kelly Shortridge. Kelly is currently VP of Product Strategy at Capsule8. In her spare time, she researches applications of behavioral economics to information security, on which she’s spoken at conferences internationally, and in our Questioning Behaviour podcast! Most recently, Kelly was the Product Manager for Analytics at SecurityScorecard. Before that, Kelly was the Product Manager for cross-platform detection capabilities at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence as well as co-founder and COO of IperLane, which was acquired. Prior to IperLane, Kelly was an investment banking analyst at Teneo Capital covering the data security and analytics sectors. With such a varied background I'm very interested in how she approaches my 7 questions!
Who or what got you into Behavioural Science? I remember my first day of Economics class in junior high, in which the teacher defined economics as “the study of choice.” As I learned more, it struck me as pretty strange that the assumption was always that humans operated according to a bunch of contrived rules. This led me to Google sleuthing for evidence about how these theories held up in practice, which pointed me in the direction of behavioral economics as a discipline – and I was hooked. But, it was the palpably broken dynamics of the information security industry that led me to begin speaking publicly on the topic, beginning with how cognitive biases manifest in security. My thinking in this area has been well-received by much of the security community, which is why I continue to research the latest in behavioral science to see where it could be applied to make our industry better.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist? I want to stress that I consider myself an amateur enthusiast, as I lack graduate degrees in behavioral economics. However, I’m proud that I’ve been able to at least slightly alter the narrative around defensive strategy in information security to include the consideration of cognitive biases. Knowing there are organizations who meaningfully improved their security outcomes by adapting their approaches to consider human behavior is incredibly fulfilling to me.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? In a dream world, I’d have a passionate, lenient benefactor who could fund my research into applications of behavioral science to information security and enterprise infrastructure technology more generally. Alas, no one has reached out to me with this sort of blank check offer.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? I apply behavioral science all the time in my personal life! Sometimes I even get annoyed at myself with my immediate reminders that I’m succumbing to a cognitive bias, but it’s ultimately helpful for my personal growth and sanity. I also enjoy conducting behavioral experiments on myself to determine what kind of self-nudging produces the best results. For instance, I’ve found that social proof and precommitment produce little effect on me, but being vigilant for choice overload and making tasks feel smaller in scope can help me overcome a procrastination hurdle.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? I believe curiosity and a willingness to be wrong are essential. Curiosity will naturally lead you to challenge existing assumptions and the status quo, then formulate your own hypotheses. A willingness to be wrong ensures that you’re constantly seeking to understand reality as it is, not how you currently conceive it to be or wish it to be – that you’re willing to test your hypotheses and accept whatever outcome results. Just as much as you should challenge existing assumptions in an industry or problem space, you should also accept when your own assumptions are successfully challenged.
Personally, my ability to pattern match has been a strength in my career. I can read about experimental outcomes from other domains and immediately visualize how these insights could be applied in my domain (information security). It’s not only a fun excuse to catch up on the latest and greatest research, but benefitting from lessons learned in other problem areas means we can hopefully bypass a lot of trial and error and start trying solutions that worked elsewhere.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)? I’m hopeful that nudging will make greater headway in technology UX, and not solely for the aim of getting users addicted to products. To draw on an example from information security, many security operations engineers face cognitive overload due to the large volume of alerts they must digest and sift through to discover whether something truly bad has happened. But, user interfaces frequently prioritize what looks “cool” or is most useful to managers, not what helps reduce the engineer’s cognitive burden – which ultimately degrades their performance and decision-making abilities.
I would also love to see more behavioral research on how to encourage collaboration and cooperation. I adore the domain of behavioral game theory, but the overwhelming focus is on competitive games rather than cooperative games. As we’re entering an era of modern enterprise technology operations where silos are being dismantled and in which responsibility and accountability are increasingly shared across teams, we need to understand how to best foster mutual trust and cooperation.
Which other behavioural scientist would you love to read an interview by? I recently read “Biased,” which was exquisitely written, so I’d love to read an interview with Dr. Jennifer L. Eberhardt.
Thank you so much for these amazing answers Kelly! I will make sure to both read "Biased" and reach out to Jennifer as a result of that :)
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!