top of page

Interview with Piyush Tantia

Behavioural Science is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisations, 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 Piyush Tantia. Piyush is Chief Innovation Officer and board member at ideas42, a social enterprise that uses insights from Behavioral Economics to invent fresh solutions to tough social problems. He built the organization starting from a small research initiative at Harvard University to an independent non-profit that runs 80 – 100 innovation projects across 30 countries. Prior to joining ideas42, Piyush was a Partner at the leading strategy consulting firm, Oliver Wyman. Piyush serves on the advisory board for the Master of Behavioral and Decision Science program at Penn, has been a visiting lecturer at the Princeton Woodrow Wilson School, and frequently lectures at other universities. He holds an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, a B.S.Econ from the Wharton School and a B.S.E. in Computer Science from the University of Pennsylvania.


Who or what got you into behavioural science?

From a young age I had always been interested in human behavior. I even read psychology books for fun as a teenager. My first job was in management consulting where I ended up focusing on product design, pricing, direct marketing, and other such topics related to consumer behavior. In the course of that work, I came across Bank of America's grant to the Media Lab at MIT around 2007/08 which exposed me to behavioral economics. Soon, I discovered Nudge and Predictably Irrational. It didn't take more than a few pages of those books for me to fall in love with this field.

What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?

I am most proud of having built ideas42, the first non-profit in this space focused on applying behavioral science to social good. We have worked on hundreds of projects with partners across more than 50 countries. Even with our success, and that of other organizations and academics, I feel behavioral science has a long way to go before it is used widely. In particular, I've been curious about why it hasn't been as widely adopted in the private sector as it has been in the social and public sectors.

If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?

I would probably be doing some sort of innovation or strategy work, though at one point 20 years ago I very briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a professional helicopter pilot. It was an early midlife crisis I think.

How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?

I apply behavioral science in my personal life exactly as I do in my professional life. At this point, I have become quite dependent on designing behavioral interventions for myself. My greatest success was several years ago when I developed chronic back problems. My physical therapist prescribed a 15 minute exercise routine three times a week. I asked him to modify it to 7 minutes every day because I knew that would be easier to form into a habit, and also combat my laziness because the routine was so short. Sure enough, I stuck to the exercise routine and have not had any back problems since.

With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?

I'll speak to being an applied behavioral scientist rather than an academic. There are a whole set of professional skills that are really important in addition to the thick skin and determination of entrepreneurs. Those are things like persuasion, relationship management, networking, making engaging presentations, and project management. More than ninety percent of our work is convincing people to implement a new idea, and then getting it implemented with high fidelity. Only a small fraction is applying behavioral science to design the intervention.

How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?

This is more a hope than a prediction: I hope that we start using behavioral science at the stage of developing a strategy and designing a policy or product rather than just to optimize after the fact. That also means that we would apply behavioral science to systems level interventions. Ironically, that's all we were working on when we first started ideas42. These were exciting projects, but very difficult to get off the ground. We pivoted away from that towards simpler optimizations of existing policies and products because we needed to establish ourselves with some successes. I now realize that those systems level projects proved so hard because we were trying to implement the change and measure outcomes with a randomized controlled trial (RCT). I think there are very worthwhile projects we should do even if we can't run an RCT. I am hoping that we stop measuring our success by the number of experiments we have run, and instead focus on the impact we have...even if we can't always measure it perfectly.

What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field?

Again, I will focus on applied behavioral science rather than academia as that is my area of expertise. The advice I always give people who ask is to look at a wider range of roles than a job at a place like ideas42 or working at a behavioral research center. You can apply behavioral science while sitting in marketing, product management, UX design, communications, or even HR.

Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?

There are too many to choose from!


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Piyush!

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!


Behavioural Science

Personal Finance



bottom of page