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 Robert Meza.
Robert is an independent consultant with a background in Economics, Innovation and Design. He founded Aim For Behavior, a studio that works with clients on building products, services and strategies with a human centred and behavioral science approach. He has spent the last 15 years helping different organisations, from startups to governments in Asia, Middle East and Europe and the US.
Who or what got you into behavioural science? I did my masters in Economic Growth and Innovation some years ago, so I was always interested in understanding and helping companies innovate. Part of that process involved applying a human centered approach to finding opportunities and solving problems, however for some reason (some of the times) the process fell short, it lacked and still lacks the emphasis on behavior and why people do things. As I searched and read more on things like psychology and human decision making, I stumbled upon Dan Ariely's book Predictably irrational (I'm sure most have had a similar book that brought them to the field). That book was well written and it helped me embark on a self-taught and experiment-driven journey. I then started to experiment and apply it at work, first with choice architecture and biases and then went deeper with things like COM-B. I am not what you would call a traditional behavioral scientist, as I still have my roots in innovation, strategy and design, but without having a behavior lens and an evidence-based model to make decisions as part of those processes, then for me they are incomplete.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve? I know most people would answer something project related, like designing a great intervention (but I won't for this interview); while I believe there are far greater people who have had the chance to work on everything from health to unemployment, for me the proudest moment has been designing a free and open resource framework for other people to understand and apply behavioral science and design in their organizations. The framework is available here. I worked on it with Elina Halonen, with whom I continue to collaborate on a few things. She has been a pleasure to work with 🙂 I wanted the framework to be open so others could also contribute to it and together as a community we can improve it and make it accessible to so many others. In terms of what I want to still achieve, I think that helping more teams and organizations apply the principles would be amazing, (perhaps do some kind of teaching as well) so the black box element of behavioral science can be revealed a bit more and together as a community we improve the discipline more and more each day.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? I think once you have learnt the principles, you will always be a behavioral scientist, as you can apply it to your personal environment 🙂 - but to answer the question, most probably I would be doing something related to sports, wellness and mindfulness. How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? One of the funny things that starts happening on the personal side, is you start to think about things in a different way, you also start empathizing with people more, as you start understanding that the decisions that are made are very context related. As an example, the other day my daughter who never eats basil on her pizza, decided to eat basil only after her best friend said she liked it. Would she have made this same decision if we told her, it tasted good? - not a chance - but she had a social driver and so she changed her decision on the spot as she was influenced. More specific to the question, I have created a board for habit and change (I also coach others on this). My wife coaches me on the board and keeps track of the behaviors I am working on to reach my outcome, and vice-versa I coach my wife. (some of the behaviors I have adopted are for example daily meditation, yoga and less social media and tv.) I believe you need to have a system to keep the change going and to update it regularly as context and situations in our lives constantly change.
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 that's a tough one to answer, but for me it helps if you understand - human centered design, product management and behavior insights as well as having a good understanding of how to work and communicate with leadership and c-level people. Being data literate is also important, but I'm not as specialized there as say a data scientist and think you can always get help and support here. How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)? My hope is that there will be more cross functional collaboration between other disciplines and that together we can start developing a shared framework to keep improving on, instead of everyone trying to have "a proprietary one" - COM-B and the BCW are a good example of a framework we could all be contributing and expanding on together and sharing the knowledge with each other.
What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field? Learn from other disciplines so you can be more well-rounded, things like systems thinking and human centered design will help you tremendously. You will be working with designers, data scientists and strategy people so it is good you understand their language and tools. Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by? How about getting Richard Ryan, so he can talk more about Self Determination Theory or Robert West and his work on the Prime Theory of Motivation.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Robert!
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!