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 Sam Tatam.
Sam is one of the few trained psychologists that I have interviewed so far! He is also the former Head of Behavioural Science for Ogilvy Australia, now he is Partner at Ogilvy Consulting’s Behavioural Science Practice in London, a consultancy that combines the gravitas of leading research in cognitive psychology and behavioural economics with the creative expertise of the Ogilvy Group. Sam’s experience stems from a background in Organisational Psychology and brand strategy, with a clear focus on understanding consumer behaviour on both a macro and micro scale. Today, he brings this thinking to Ogilvy’s clients across the globe, developing behavioural interventions and shaping the communications of some of the world’s most influential organisations.
Who or what got you into Behavioural Science?
I’ve always been fascinated by human behaviour. My background is in Organisational / Industrial Psychology (my interest is primarily ‘normative’ psychology compared to ‘abnormal’ or ‘clinical’ behaviour… although the disciplines are clearly not entirely separate). As the field of Behavioural Science has evolved, I’ve enjoyed broadening my focus into related sub-disciplines, like Behavioural Economics.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist?
I’m most proud of leading a team who I see are some of the brightest, kindest and most creative people on the planet. Our Behavioural Science Practice at Ogilvy Consulting UK is a team of 15 Psychologists and Behavioural Economists, and the ideas and impact this small group generates continues to amaze me.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
My background is in both psychology and advertising strategy. If my career didn’t shift so heavily towards applied behavioural science, I’d probably have continued as a Brand Strategist in advertising (which I absolutely love). If I was out of advertising agencies completely, I think I’d be in visual or industrial design.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
If only I did more of this! There are a few things, I suppose. I often change the ‘choice architecture’ on my iPhone to make it harder to access emails when I’m on holiday, needing to swipe through four or five pages to get to them. I also occasionally try to prime my partner with a sense of ‘fullness’ when we’re at a restaurant (on the off chance I’ll be able to finish her meal) - “geez this is a bit rich, isn’t it?” or “Wow – look at the size of that!” * I appreciate this isn’t always a popular intervention.
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 understanding the foundations of human psychology, including its evolutionary origins, is vital. Insight into human biology and evolutionary psychology provides a consistent, unchanging reference to better understand the ‘real why’ of behaviour – arming us with questions like, “I wonder how this would have helped us survive or reproduce in the past?” Building from this, being able to connect-the-dots between proven academic theory and real-world opportunity is incredibly valuable. In my experience, the best practitioners can extract the essence of an idea or theory and then reapply it in ways we haven’t seen before.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
We should be proud that our field has matured from the ‘mystical dark arts’ to a respected discipline within government, private and social sectors. However, as AI and machine learning become ubiquitous, I suspect there will be elements of our practice, the high repetition low hanging fruit, that will be absorbed by some of this technology. In my eyes, this is a really good thing. In many instances, we don’t always need to know why something works, just that it does.
As technology advances, I think we also need to see how this can be harnessed to provide further clarity when addressing complex or systemic behaviour change. As we move beyond individual or immediate context-based decision-making (or nudging), the role of technology in identifying the most vital opportunity for behavioural insights to make an impact would be significant.
Finally, as our discipline evolves, I think we should continue to prioritise the role of ‘creative thinking’ in developing novel or unseen solutions for the problems we face. Science is naturally a creative pursuit, and welcoming the practitioner community to continue to bend, challenge and reinforce existing academic theory, extending our understanding of the influences of human behaviour, can only be a good thing.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
Gerd Gigerenzer - We were lucky to have Gerd join us for Nudgestock 2019. He’s a humble, great character and continues to bring a fresh pragmatism to our discipline.
Thank you so much for these amazing answers Sam! I will try my very best to hunt down Gerd, 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!