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 Matej Sucha. Matej is the Founder, and CEO of MINDWORX Behavioral Consulting and one of the speakers of Mindworx Academy course. Matej is a recognized speaker and expert in applying behavioral economics and consumer psychology in business, with notable expertise in working with both large corporates and SMBs. His bankground is quite unique: a quantitative background in Actuarial mathematics. His expertise is among others consumer psychology and influence. Let's see what this mathematician has to say about behavioural science!
Who or what got you into behavioural science? So I had always been interested throughout my university studies in business, entrepreneurship, management, then I, I was reading a lot of books. And just by coincidence, I came across Predictably Irrational, and around the same time, I also read Influence: the psychology of persuasion. And that's how I got hooked onto onto the topic. And from from basically that moment on, I read and learned and watched everything I could lay my hands on. But it was Predictably Irrational and Influence which got me into the field.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve? Well, first of all, I see myself as a behavioral practitioner, not a scientist. And what I'm proudest of, is something which I wouldn't have been able to achieve myself, but it's something that we did together with my team. And that is that we, over the over the years, since we've been doing BE consulting, we managed to convince several big companies, big corporations to embrace behavioral economics, and to implement it on a regular basis into everything they do. So we first started with small projects, which proved to work, which showed them that this behavior magic actually works. And it's slowly evolved. And now these companies are building their own in house behavioral teams, and want to implement all these insights in a continuous and regular manner. So this is our biggest accomplishment. Because we basically managed to take some theoretical insights, translate them into business language and get companies excited about it. Then, we managed to actually design specific solutions for these companies, which proved to work, which proved to bring results. And that's how these companies got excited about the topic and were willing to implement all into everything that they do. So I see this as our big accomplishment.
And what do we still want to achieve is? Well, for me, it's insideBE.com. Which I am really investing a ton of time into, because I want behavioral science and behavioral economics to get to the center of attention of businesses. I want it to become mainstream, because I believe it's an amazing business approach and an amazing business tool. And I think it's not getting the attention it deserves. And so what I want to achieve is that I want to get hundreds and thousands of companies throughout the world to experiment with behavioral economics. So experiment with the insights, test different hypotheses stemming from behavioral insights. I simply want businesses out there to embrace behavioral economics more.
If you weren't a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? Well, I don't consider myself as a behavioral scientist, as I said, but as a practitioner, and if I were not a behavioral scientist, I think I would be an entrepreneur: I would be building a business in a different field most likely in business development. Because if I have a product or service I believe in I love convincing companies and showing them the impact it can have on on what they do. But I first need to be truly convinced of the product. And if this happens, then I really enjoy persuading companies to embrace the product, or the service that I offer.
How do you apply behavioural science to your personal life?
Well, I tried to implement it in, for example, my work routine and productivity: from how I organize my day to how I try to be as productive as possible, with all kinds of to-do-lists and, small hacks I try to implement in my workflow or organization of my days. I also use it when I try to embrace a new habit. For example, now I'm exercising in the morning, and I'm basically trying to get used to this new habit through a tiny habits approach by BJ Fogg. Science tells us that if you set a too big of a goal, you'll never ever achieve it. And this is the biggest mistake I believe people make when they want to take up a new habit. So I'm starting really slow trying to build a routine around it and implement it in my everyday morning routine. And over time, I will be basically increasing the the workout I do, against the level where I want to be.Tiny baby steps is a sure way to get where you want to be, because you'll probably never ever get there with big leaps. I'm applying behavioral science in other ways as well: I'm trying to nudge myself to drink more water to live a healthier life when it comes to eating. And also, it helps me to identify and see mistakes I make in my judgments in my decisions. I can very often see the mistakes and kind of decode the mistakes that other people make. But that's just one part of the equation. And still a second part is I mean, you've seen a person make a mistake in, say, their judgment about the a certain thing, but what do you do about it? And this is always the hard part, but at least it helps me to understand people a little bit better, and to make better decisions myself.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? Well, it depends what you mean by behavioral scientist, if it's someone working in research, I don't know, what are the skills? I've never been research, I'm a behavioral practitioner. So I can only answer the question: "what are the skills needed to be a good BE consultant?" And I think it's by far not enough to have the academic knowledge and the academic insights and to master the theory. What I encounter often is that people have the theoretical background, but then they enter the real world, and they're clueless, even though they have spent years learning and studying behavioral science, they still can't design a real world application, or intervention, as we call it, because the business requirements are so different. I believe you don't have to have all the theoretical background to be a great behavioral practitioner pr consultant. What you need is a good understanding and feeling for the business. And you must be able to find this sweet spot between what the business wants, and what you should be doing according to good behavioral science. Because businesses often push you to unscientific approaches. So the sweet spot is between what business wants and what behavioral science dictates. And you have to make peace with yourself that it will nearly never be according to the textbooks. In real business, in real consulting, you're not designing academic experiments, and that's fine, that's alright. Because here, the main goal is not to publish a research paper, it's to achieve results. So as far as you're able to test it in a decent manner. And your your solutions work, i.e. they bring results, I think it's great. And businesses don't care if it was a 30% loss aversion and 70% social proof, or if it was something else. You need to have a good understanding of behavioral economics, but not only of the principles. We often we kind of limit behavioral science to the behavioral principles, But I think what's more important is the behavioral mindset, which we talked about in the podcast (Merle: Questioning Behaviour Podcast, episode 39), which is about how you look at customers, how you look at people and the way you approach a business, and how you approach a behavior change challenge. It's the idea that you really embrace that behavior has several components: it's about motivations, removing frictions, being able to properly identify what the behavioral challenge is, and put it on paper. That's the first step you need to do. And this has nothing to do with behavioral principles or with behavioral or economic theories. This is what I call the mindset. And I believe that you can be a fairly good behavior consultant, if you've mastered the fundamentals of the behavioral mindset, and you understand that people don't make rational decisions, and that there's so much more going on. And you don't need to know prospect theory by heart, if you managed to combine all this with kind of the feeling for business. To sum it up, you need a behavioral mindset, you need a feeling for business. And of course, you need a decent knowledge of behavioral principles. But you definitely don't need to have a PhD in behavioral science to be a good practitioner.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)? Well I hope, and I'll do all I can, that behavioral science becomes some more mainstream in business. That it becomes the center of interest for businesses. And I think that it will slowly become more of a commodity. That there will be more software solutions popping up here and there, which combine AI and machine learning with the behavioral insights. So that you have some kind of magic box which you feed with the right alogithmic inputs, and it helps you choose and implement the right behavioral principles and behavioral tools by itself.
Which other behavioral scientists would you love to read an interview by? Well, I don't have any specific names, but I would really like to hear about people who use behavioral insights in practice. I'm really interested in how consultants and practitioners apply behavioral science to solve real world challenges and real business challenges: what approaches they have; what kind of problems they solve; what kind of projects they work on; and and what solutions they design.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Matej.
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!