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 Nick Mishkin. Nick is a public speaker, podcast critic, music promoter, and behavioral economics coach. He specializes in applying behavioral science to business communication. Since earning his bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania, Nick has sold products for several companies across many industries: music, advertising, SaaS technology, and information technology. He is earning his masters degree in behavioral economics from IDC Herzliya in Israel and curates the popular Spotify podcast playlist “Behavioral Economics.” Find Nick on Twitter at @behavior2020.
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
I worked in technology sales for seven years in New York City. During this time, I had moments of great success but also times of failure. Those failures could be attributed to one thing -- insufficient emotional intelligence. I struggled to empathise with customers and understand their emotions. To combat this, I listened to podcasts covering behavioral science and stumbled across Melina Palmer’s The Brainy Business, which teaches how to apply behavioral economics to business. Fascinated with the material, I reached out to Melina to schedule a call and learn about her journey. A few minutes into the conversation, she felt my passion and suggested looking into masters programs. I’m now a masters student in behavioral economics at IDC Herzliya (in Israel) and run my own consulting business, Behavior 20/20. It should also be noted that my uncle, Frederic Mishkin, is a renowned economist at Columbia Business School. He teaches monetary policy, was a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System under Ben Bernanke, wrote the number one selling textbook in his field, and appears on television frequently. I’m sure he subconsciously had some influence on my decision to go into Economics. I also majored in Economics at the University of Pennsylvania during my undergraduate degree.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?
I’m most proud of my foresight in identifying the global interest in behavioral economics. People fear decision-making because there are too many choices plus unlimited information (see Barry Schwartz Paradox of Choice Ted Talk). Humanity drives itself crazy expending precious cognitive energy on trivial things.
People also find behavioral economics concepts fascinating and thought-provoking. I’ve historically been successful at identifying trends (stocks, crypto currencies, mindfulness), and when I saw people’s earnest reactions to my scenarios on anchoring principles and subjective reality, I knew this field had a future. As we talked about Merle, these scenarios made great topics for parties -- much more engaging than chatting about work or boring responses like, “everything is good” followed by silence. My motto for identifying trends -- don’t fear change, seek it out.
As a musician and former concert promoter, I appreciate audio as a learning tool. I’m somewhat “obsessed” with podcasts and have listened to hundreds on behavioral science. I consolidated all of the best ones into the Behavioral Economics Playlist on Spotify. The playlist has 1,021 subscribers, and I add new interviews consistently. It makes me happy to know people are getting value from it, and I’m doing my part to spread behavioral science.
My consulting firm, Behavior 20/20, is in its early stages -- juggling it with school is too much. I do have a few clients though and train their sales teams to apply behavioral economics.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
Probably be an account executive at a larger firm in Austin, Texas or Los Angeles, California. Except for a year at iHeart Media, I have only worked at startups and would have wanted large firm experience.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
You’ll like this Merle since it’s in your expertise: I constantly calculate the value beyond money. For example, a few months ago, Israel was about to go into another lockdown and I wanted to take one last jog on the beach before settling indoors for weeks. It was 4:15 in the afternoon, and I only had an hour until sunset. The beach isn’t walkable, so I could take a 15-20 minute cab ride for $25 USD or take a 30 - 45 minute bus ride for $2 USD. As a student of behavioral economics, I had fun with the decision process. I recognized that the value of running in longer sunlight and avoiding the anxiety of a slow bus outweighed the $23 USD gap. Hence, I took the cab and never looked back. Moreover, I didn’t compare the $25 taxi ride to the bus -- which in relative terms is 12 times more expensive. I viewed the $25 in absolute terms, which is not a lot to pay for a guaranteed pleasurable experience.
I helped my friend shop for guitars -- I’m a musician and he wanted my opinion. As a beginner, his budget was 400 shekels. He picked up a guitar for that price and I told him it was “shit.” I saw a much better guitar for 550 shekels and suggested he buy it; however, I could tell he was uncomfortable going over budget by 27%. He’s been a great friend to me, and I’m older so I had money from working. Ignoring the 400 shekel anchor, the gap was only 150 shekels ($45 USD), so I decided to pay the difference for him. In relative terms, 27% seems heavy, but in absolute terms, I gave my friend the gift of music and made us both happy for less than $50 USD.
Like a good stoic, I try to frame experiences positively. Months ago, a blackout in the middle of the night cut out the AC and woke me (it can get hot in Israel). Instead of saying, “the blackout is ruining my day” I framed the experience, “the blackout is providing the opportunity to listen to another podcast and call friends in the United States. After an hour, the power came back and I went to sleep. Everything was “sababa” (means cool / no worries in Hebrew).
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
Study your own mind, emotions, and habits. How can you excite people to improve their behavior if you don’t question or understand your own?
I love Sam Harris’ Waking Up Ap. It includes meditation sessions on vipassana, stoicism, and effortless mindfulness. Check out this seven minute theory session with Sam -- if you vibe with it, the app is for you.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
More masters programs on behavioral economics will be created. Similarly, there will be more undergraduate classes offered. As Jo Evershed said on your podcast, we’re in the century of the brain.
I also think a stronger definition of behavioral economics will form. Is it more psychology or economics? Even universities aren’t sure.
And I'm expecting more experiments on mental health and suicide. As Yuval Noah Harrari writes in his book Sapiens, we’re all freaked out about terrorism but overlook death to suidice which is more prevalent. Is this logical?
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
Anyone on the Behavioral Economics Playlist on Spotify. And to give a nod to my program, Guy Hochman’s and Itzhak Gilboa’s research on how emotions and subjective probabilities affect behavior is fascinating. I especially like Guy’s research on sympathy and Itzhak’s research on fantasy value.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Nick!
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!