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 Nurit Nobel. Nurit has 10+ years experience in marketing and strategy consulting working with top Swedish and international companies. After years of applying her knowledge in human insight to increase demand for brands and services, she became curious in how it can be used for higher level purposes, which lead her to pursuing a PhD at Stockholm School of Economics. Her experience made her aware of how failures to take behavioral factors into account often lead to ineffective results, which she explores in her research and applied work with Impactually, of which she is the co-founder and CEO!
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
I did my bachelors in psychology and business management – that was I while ago – at the university of Ben-Gurion in Israel, that’s where I am from . In Israel we have a very long tradition of studying judgement and decision-making. Both Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the two psychologists who basically started this whole field of research, were Israelis. And I had the privilege to study with professors who were their students. And I think already then, the seed had been sown with me. And I was extremely fascinated by this discipline.
After graduating I went on to do other things. I went to industry and was working in marketing. This still had a lot to do with understanding people, why they do the things they do, but applying it to other directions. And then at some point I found myself having the urge to go back to the roots, to apply my knowledge not only to understand consumer behaviour better and design brands and products, but to nudge people towards better behaviour and to help them solve their problems, through behavioural science.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist?
It’s hard to reflect on achievements. But I think that, doing what I do, having started Impactually only in 2017, I am proud that we have reached a lot of people with these concepts of behavioural science. We have trained around 300 or 400 practitioners in face to face courses about behavioural science and nudging and that is in Stockholm only. Then we have had hundreds of people who have taken our online course in nudging. We have thousands of people who read our newsletters. So I think maybe our greatest achievement with Impactually has been disseminating information and evidence and other concepts from behavioural science to the general public, which has been one of our missions to begin with. To bridge the gap between academia and practice and to make academic research accessible for all. Having managed that is the achievement I am proudest of.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
I have had ten years to explore other options. I had a career in marketing and in management consulting and I reached quite far. But I really feel that this (being a behavioural scientist) is so much more meaningful, purposeful and rewarding. Other than just running Impactually the behavioural science consultancy, I am also pursuing a PhD and a career in research and most likely I’d like to combine the two. So actually my answer is that I’d be doing behavioural science as is. I’ve done other things but I chose this so hopefully I get to do this for as long as possible.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
Lots of ways. I’m not immune to these challenges of intention-to-action-gaps, just like everyone else. We say this all the time and we see this all the time in research that even though we are well aware of our biases, our blind spots, we continue to make the same mistakes just like everyone else.
Personally, I use a lot of commitment devices. I know that one of my challenges is to remain focussed throughout the workday. So, I use things like browser extensions and apps to lock me out of websites that just tend to be a giant rabbit hole for me. These are just sites I stay on way too long, such as Twitter and Facebook. I also use browser extensions to limit the amount of times I can check my inbox. I try to check e-mails only a few times a day, rather than always checking them. The rest of the time I try to have blocks for actually achieving the things I need to get done, like research, coursework and client work etcetera. So that is one area where I use insights from behavioural science in my life.
Another example of a commitment device that I use is scheduling my workouts and also preparing my gym clothes and everything the night before. Anything that can be done to remove the barriers for myself to do the things I want to be doing. Those are things I’ve learned from behavioural science.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
I think this is so diverse. We see more and more that there are a myriad of ways to achieve a career in behavioural science. I can say the cliché “I’ve had an untraditional way of getting into behavioural science,” but it almost seems as if everyone has had an untraditional way of getting into behavioural science at this point, because it is such a young field.
I have opted for pursuing a PhD in parallel (with Impactually) because I love research and I love going deep into things. I’m just super nerdy, want to learn more and think that research is cool. But this is very clearly not the only way to go about things and there’s plenty of other people who are doing great work with “only” a Masters degree or being self-taught.
When I started I also “only” had a Masters degree in Social Psychology from LSE and I did go the self-taught way. I think there’s a lot of sources out there to gain that knowledge. I went and downloaded a bunch of different reports, such as the ones from the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and the Obama’s administration Social and Behavioral Science Team. I read a lot of books and wrote to a lot of people to seek advice. I did learn a lot by myself, and I do think this is a possibility if people are structured enough. Today there are even more resources for doing that. As I mentioned before, we have our own online course (“Designing Nudges”) which a lot of people seem to be taking and learning from.
Ultimately, I believe there is a bunch of ways to become a behavioural scientist. And a bunch of skills that are relevant. Skills such as, when we talk about conducting research then it is statistical knowledge, but it’s also knowledge of the literature and the psychological phenomena you are studying. Another important skill is to be able to be interdisciplinary and to be able to work with neighbouring disciplines, like economics and sociology. Design is also a skill that definitely seems to play a big role in applied settings. There are just so many skills that are relevant and so many ways in and so many different types of roles you can end up in.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
If the major milestone of the last decade was the work in public policy, which started with the book Nudge, and was carried through by the BIT, I think that the next decade will see a lot more of companies and organisations and the big management consultancies venture into this space.
My only hope is that we will stay, as much as possible, in “Nudge for good” side of things, and that we really do continue to apply these insights for good, rather than only for commercial purposes and to sell more products. I will definitely continue working on projects to help people achieve their goals and solve societal challenges.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
My personal behavioural science hero is Katy Milkman from Wharton. I would probably read anything that she would write or questions that she would answer or just anything she would do! I think she’s absolutely amazing and I love her work.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write down these amazing answers Nurit. I hope to do an interview with Katy Milkman soon, but no promises!
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!