Proudest Achievements of Famous Behavioural Scientists

I have this tradition where for every 10 interviews I write a summary article. For 20 interviews it was: “How do you think behavioural science will develop?” For 30 interviews it was: "Who or what got you into Behavioural Science?" For 40 interviews it was: “With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?” And for 50 interviews it was: “How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?” Now I have overshot myself slightly. There’s 62 interviews currently on the blog, as I’ve managed to lose track in this crazy times. Now, albeit slightly delayed, I celebrate hitting the “60 mark”, by summarising the answers of the first 60 interviews to the question: “What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist?”

Students For those interviewees who happen to have a teaching or supervisory aspects, there were a few who mentioned their students as their biggest achievement and pride. Bless your hearts Dan Gilbert and Katy Milkman. I’m sure your students felt just as proud to have you as teachers and mentors! Joshua D. Greene can also be added to this list. He initially mentions his work on morality as a proud achievement, but then sneakily moves on to drop this bomb: “I am, of course, very proud of the fantastic grad students and postdocs who have come through my lab. I've learned more from them than they've learned from me.”

Marco Palma joins in here: “I am proud of working with amazing students who push the boundaries of knowledge. Part of my job is challenging my students to find their passion and to pursue it relentlessly with bravery and devotion. Any achievement or important discovery is meaningless if it is not serving the greater good or helping someone.”

Writing Who said the written word was dead? Quite a few of my interviewees indicated that they were quite proud of themselves for having written a book! Starman (Chris Starmer) was very proud of having co-authored a book early one, collaboratively written with quite a few of the other names mentioned here. Jeff Kreisler also mentions his book “Dollars and Sense” which he co-wrote with Dan Ariely as his proudest achievement. Amy Bucher is on the list as well: “Right now I’m pretty proud of writing my book, Engaged: Designing for Behavior Change. Although there’s more of a community around behavior change design now, I think it can still be challenging for new practitioners to find their way!” In addition to writing books, Nick Powdthavee indicated his biggest pride was writing a specific paper published! Paul Adams also mentions a paper as one of his proudest achievements : ”The single paper I’m most proud of is the field experiment we ran on credit card direct debit defaults, together with Stefan Hunt, Benedict Guttman Kenney, Lucy Hayes, David Laibson and Neil Stewart, and several other collaborating firms.” It’s unsurprising that Paul mentions his collaborators and the people at the FCA as a proud achievement as well. Staying with the topic of paper writing, Rebecca Reczek also mentions a paper as her proudest achievement: “The accomplishment of which I am proudest actually happened quite recently. One of my papers was selected as one of the inaugural winners of the 2020 AMA-EBSCO Annual Award for Responsible Research in Marketing, and another of my papers was named as a finalist. I am really proud of being recognized with this award because it honors outstanding research in marketing that produces “both credible and useful knowledge that can be applied to benefit society,” with the goal of “better marketing for a better world.” Congrats Rebecca! And why stop at writing papers? Accidential Behavioural Economist Koen Smets (Koenfucius) mentions his article “There is more to behavioral economics than biases and fallacies” giving him a lot of pride, especially when it went viral and was mentioned by Tyler Cowen on his blog. Not a small feat as Tyler is an idol of his! Much like Koen, Matt Johnson, next to his job, co-authors the blog PopNeuro, and has recently co-authored the book “Blindsight” with Prince Ghuman. Both have been interviewed by me, and both mention this as their proudest achievement. Good going guys! Continuing on the topic of blogs, Eva Krockow mentions her regular blog on Psychology Today as a great achievement: “Some people think non-academic writing is easy, but man, are they wrong! I love the challenge of presenting scientific knowledge in an engaging and accessible way.” SAME!!! If you want the achievement of all achievements, here comes the big CC. Colin Camerer was proud of having been able to publish five papers with different colleagues on different topics with different methods within the 1997-1999 time period. They were a “Taxicab driver labor supply field data (QJE); an early field experiment on race track betting (JPE), a general model of learning in games (Econometrica) and two experimental papers on cognitive hierarchy and overconfidence (AER).” Show off…

Company/Career Okay I have to put out a quick trigger warning for those with imposter syndrome. A lot of people I interviewed have come to fame by having their own initiatives and companies. That doesn’t mean you should start a company right now. It just means they have… Jez Groom indicates his two practices so far - #ogilvychange and Cowry Consulting, have made him the proudest. Why? Because it enabled him to create jobs and help young practitioners: “I've kickstarted the careers of over 25 and I'd like to help a lot more!” We’re here for it Jez! Keeping in line with having your own company, Biju Dominic indicates FinalMile and their work as his proudest achievement. Maybe not specifically company related, but Dan Egan says that his proudest achievement is just having been able to turn behavioural science into an actual career – and holding fulltime jobs in it! For some of us, this remains to be a dream 😉 If you think Dan Egan is cheeky, you really need to read the interview with Sam Salzer. His proudest achievement has everything to do with how he ended up being hired by Beteendelabbet, a company he was utterly obsessed with. And that’s a story, trust me! Christian Hunt’s reply links quite nicely to Egan’s: “persuading my boss at UBS (thanks Jim!) to allow me to do a fulltime Behavioural Science role. It’s the first job I’ve ever had that was bespoke! The third was having the courage to take what I’d developed at UBS and set up my own company to carry that journey on, in a broader context. Christian is of course incredibly well-known for Human Risk, which gets an honourable mention as well! In a similar vein, Guy Champniss states that “I am proud of my ability to apply behavioural science concepts in the real world. In 2015 I moved to work for a US-based energy and behaviour start-up called Enervee (I had been an advisor for a few years before).” Greg Davies mentions “being able to start and build the banking world’s first dedicated behavioural finance team – I had already done some commercial consulting focussed on applied decision science, but was given the wonderful opportunity in 2006 to found a permanent behavioural team at Barclays at a time when the field was still relatively young outside academia.” And what a contribution that has been to the field of behavioural finance! Dan Bennet mentions being the founding behavioural scientist on the United for Healthier Kids movement, as his proudest achievement. Given the very real and global influence of this application of behavioural science, that’s a great achievement! Unsurprisingly (no offense), Michael Hallsworth mentions the BIT: “In general, I feel proud about being part of the team that took the Behavioural Insights Team from its origins in government to an organisation of 200 people that works on issues around the globe.” Kelly Peters mentions her BeWorks: “BEworks started with one project, tackling the issue of helping people pay their credit card bills on time. Now BEworks is a 50-person (and growing!) team, with over 30 full-time PhDs on staff in offices in a few countries, working on projects around the world. I’m proud of the incredible calibre of talent on my team.” Staying on the “starting a company trend,” Torben Emmerling chips in, naming Affective Advisory his proudest achievement. Tim Ash mentions his digital optimization agency SiteTuners. Silja Voolma and Ali Fenwick also mention starting their own companies as highlights. Ali additionally mentions having organised a summit with his company (Behavioural Economics 2.0) as an additional highlight. Moving from a company to an investment fund: Wim Steemers mentions his Rosevalley funds, in which he has been able “to construct an investment strategy that uses Behavioural Finance principles to generate above-market returns.” Applied behavioural science folks, check it out! And of course, one of our newest dissemination media: the podcast. Melina Palmer mentions “creating The Brainy Business podcast, which now has nearly a quarter million downloads in over 160 countries. The show has exceeded my wildest expectations.” Those are some impressive stats! Stuart King also mentions his podcast (The Real World Behavioural Science Podcast) as one of his proudest achievements: “I started that show because I wanted other people to hear from experts from industry, health and academia, but to question them in such a way that regular people could see how amazingly useful behavioural and social science is.”

General Field Contributions Some of my interviewees don’t credit a specific occurrence as something they’re proud of. They simply look at their careers, which have often spanned decades, and are happy with what they contributed, and that they were able to contribute. Long-term collaborators Graham Loomes and Bob Sugden answered the question in exactly that way: They both considered their general contributions, their early work and “helping to push things along” as their biggest achievement. Andrew Oswald mentioned a similar point of pride: “helping to develop the economics of happiness, as it is now called.” Starman also mentions being proud of having been part of “a vibrant extended community of researchers. I realise this not really an achievement, but to the extent that I’ve played a role in supporting it – I’m really proud of that.” Starman always knows what to say… Daniel Read mentions contributing to behavioural science through his work in both intertemporal choice and choice bracketing as his biggest achievement. Given that I’ve read most of his papers, I think that’s fair play Daniel! Another academic to mention general field contributions is Glo (George Loewenstein, obviously). “I think I played a role in bringing emotions back into economic theory and research. I’m also proud of having published, in 1987, what may have been the first paper in what has become a burgeoning line of inquiry focusing on belief-based utility.” We are proud too, George. We’re feeling all the emotions! Rory Sutherland focuses his pride on a single project: “The most important role to date has been in helping to encourage the UK government to adopt a wait-and-see approach to e-cigarettes, when the instincts of the establishment were to ban them. I have been called the Walter Raleigh of vaping.” I think I speak for all of us when I say that Rory’s influence goes far beyond nicotine! Several of my friends are more addicted to Rory than they could ever be to a cigarette. Trust me…

Kelly Shortridge stresses that she’s in fact not a behavioural scientist, but mentions that her biggest pride is bringing behavioural science into the field of information security. Lord knows it needs it! Kristen Berman also mentions joining two fields: academia and industry: “Generally making behavioural science something that can be used within industry setting.” I’m also putting Nuala Walsh in this field. She is most proud “to have recently co-founded the new Global Association of Applied Behavioural Scientists with a team of amazing experts. It fills an important industry gap, providing both a quality-seal for companies who offer these services and a quality-filter for companies using them.” I don’t think it qualifies as a company, but this initiative will lead behavioural science in the right direction! Susan Michie is most proud of “developing frameworks and tools that make the understanding and application of behavior and behavior change accessible to wide audiences, thus providing a bit of a bridge between academic expertise and changing policy and practice to address the world's problems.” No one is wondering why all of Susan Michie’s work would fit in this category. It just does.

Collaborations We all stand on the shoulders of giants. And sometimes, we’re standing next to them. Cass Sunstein mentions he is most proud of the collaborations he has had: “I feel most honored to have been able to work, with many others, in introducing behavioral economics to law and public policy. In that regard, my work in the White House was a blessing and a joy, and in recent years, I have been honored to work with many governments all over the world.” Neela Saldanha mentions setting up some awesome initiatives (the Centre for Social and Behavior Change (CSBC) at Ashoka University), and collaborations (Busara Centre, Yale Centre for Customer Insight) as her proudest achievements. Tim Houlihan mentions several collaborations as his proudest moments. Both Ariely and GLo show up as collaborators, so hot damn! Additionally, he mentions setting up Behavioral Grooves together with Kurt Nelson. Sam Tatam mentions his team at Ogilvy: “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.” Very much in line with Sam’s comments, Nick Hobson is also most proud of his team: “I am proudest of leading a mixed team of researchers – including psychologists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, and management scientists – who worked on a theoretical model of the psychology of ritual.” I was very lucky in interviewing both Nurit Nobel and Christina Gravert, both founders of Impactually, coming from industry and academia respectively. Unsurprisingly, they both mention their company and their collaboration – bridging the gap between academia and industry - as one of their proudest achievements. Lena Belogolova mentions quite a specific type of achievement, as derived from a collaboration: “those moments when behavioral science starts to click for the CEO or a leader at a company I’m working with. That moment when they start doing a behavioral audit of their product or a new product feature based on something I’ve taught them… those moments are each priceless accomplishments.” On the topic of collaborations, Ralph Hertwig credits his best work to them: “generally I’m proud of work where I feel I’m stepping outside of my intellectual box. That is most likely to happen when I work with people across different disciplines, and I’m not a captive of my own knowledge and thinking.” Dan Goldstein feels similarly, crediting his proudest work (helping people comprehend the numbers that appear in the news) in collaboration with Jake Hofman.

Courses We often forget how much work is behind the (educational) content we consume, but setting up any form of teaching is a lot of work. As the interviewees below know very well! Gordon Brown points at (helping) setting up the MSc Behavioural and Economic Science at Warwick as one of his biggest achievements. Dilip Soman mentions creating the MOOC "Behavioural Economics in Action (BE101x)” as one of his crown achievements. It has to be said, both that specific MOOC and the Warwick MSc have become famous throughout the world of behavioural science. Talking about MOOCs, Aline Holzwarth worked with Duke’s Fuqua School of Business to create A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior, Dan Ariely’s behavioral economics course on Coursera, which she mentions as one of her highlights. Evelyn Gosnell also mentions a behavioural science course: “Building a trail-blazing bootcamp for product folks who want to learn more about behavioral science.” Love a good bootcamp!

Non-work related In addition to people mentioning their work – which is fair play given how I posed the question – there are people who look beyond work related achievements. Ganna Pogrebna (role model to us all) mentions becoming a parent as her proudest achievement, even after all the things she’s achieved within her career, mentioning that “If someone told me 15 years ago that I would eventually become a university professor, I would laugh them out of the room.” Who’s laughing now? Louise Ward also mentions raising her children as a proud achievement. In addition to raising them, she also studied as a “mature student” with 4 small children aged 3-8 years. Damn… I didn’t know where to put Michael Barbera, I don’t think he even knows (I mean this in the best way). His biggest achievement is to make people smile: “My proudest is seeing others laugh and learn about their own irrational or quirky behavior, and facilitate learning from self-reflection while being in a quasi-stand up comedy environment.”

The best is yet to come! There are of course always some people who are humble. Both Ganna and Magda Osman indicate that there is much more to come. And we are excited to see it!

Concluding thoughts There is so much great stuff here. It warms my heart that blogs and podcasts are on the list of achievements! There’s also a great place for written work here! Papers (@Colin Camerer, really mate?!), books (good recommendations!) and other articles galore! Also, how entrepreneurial are we as a bunch of behavioural scientists?! Loads of people have their own companies, or have been instrumental in setting up companies, organisations and other initiatives. That’s just wild! I do love how many people indicate that they are just happy to be in the field, having the opportunity to disseminate information, and try bridging the gap between academia and industry to make behavioural science the best it can be. I hope you enjoyed this summary article. I really hope you enjoyed it, because as the list of interviewees keep growing, so does the amount of time it takes to write these. But I'm not complaining! I'm thankful so many people took the time out of their day to answer my questions, and I thank you, my dear reader, for taking the time out of your day to read and support my articles. On to the next one!

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