I just attended the best conference ever. And I’ve been to a lot of them.
The ideas42 Behavioral Summit 2016 was billed as offering “…an inside look at the latest developments from the field of behavioral science and how these insights drive innovation in the private sector.” Indeed it went beyond that, touching on politics, public policy and personal productivity hacks. I also met some very interesting people in consulting, government, NGOs and medicine. I even got to stand this || close to Daniel Kahneman!
Here are some quick highlights from the day and a half of excellent presentations and discussions.
Panel: Designing Outstanding Customer Experiences
- Jet.com‘s Liza Landsman said, “We gonna exploit the hell of out of the fact that people think with their lizard brain.” I thought about my last $137 purchase on her website and freaked a bit wondering how much of that was me and how much were behavioral economics techniques like anchoring at higher prices (which drop as you add to your cart) and careful curation to avoid choice overload.
- HBS’s Michael Norton described how consumers and voters love transparency. Instead of progress bars, he shows how detailed activity summaries of an air travel search algorithm or Boston’s pothole repair tracker improves engagement and trust.
Panel: Strengthening Motivation and Commitment
- StickK‘s Jordan Goldberg described how his offering addresses our present bias by “raising today’s price of your vice.” Non-cash awards are more salient and motivating than cash because they can be visualized. And he offered this compelling slide on the power of defaults vis-a-vis organ donation policies:
Speaker: Adam Grant
Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, then gave a fascinating talk about three kinds of people: givers, takers and matchers, and how their dynamics affect the workplace. Givers are generally unselfish and even altruistic. Matchers will expect something in return if they do you a favor and vice-versa. Takers are basically greedy SOBs who will ruin any corporate culture. The first priority of recruiting is to avoid takers. Givers can be an organization’s greatest failures (because they let others take advantage) or greatest successes (provided they set limits to their generosity).
Interview: Daniel Kahneman
Next, Nate Silver interviewed Daniel Kahneman. Prof. Kahneman compared the Trump phenomenon with Hitler’s rise, recommended “Sapiens, a short history of human kind” and clarified that errors are not necessarily caused by biases. Noise is more important: things that should not but do affect your decision.
Panel: Designing for Scarcity
From this panel, we learned that:
- Poverty reduces attentional capacity or bandwidth. The poor are very busy making trade-offs and calculating time and money opportunity costs, leaving less capacity for other decisions.
- This can make them experts, much better than the more fortunate, at calculating opportunity costs.
- One should communicate interest costs, say of payday loans, in terms of dollars, not percentages, to make an impression.
Panel: Measuring and Analyzing Behavior for Better Insights
The next morning kicked off with a panel on quantitative measurements. Barbara Mellers of the Good Judgement Project taught us how to be good forecasters. We ought to:
- Make forecasts with probabilities, not words. Say “90%” not “highly likely.”
- Form a team with people who are open minded, intelligent, have a high need for cognition (they like to think) and who use precise probabilities when they forecast.
- Train them in probabilistic reasoning.
- Make some simple adjustments in the forecast probabilities, making them more extreme.
Panel: Politics and the Behavioral Revolution panel
Interesting points included:
- A study involving “deep canvassing” generated sufficient empathy from door-to-door conversations to “durably” reduce transphobia.
- If you want to increase political activism, don’t remind people of fiscal constraints and then ask them for money! Instead, leverage social pressure (your friends are doing it), say thank you, make it convenient and help them anticipate rewards.
- If you want to change someone’s mind, begin by affirming their self-worth.
Panel: Building Trust
Some big ideas:
- The neocortex is the seat of our social intellect (chart).
- Social isolation is more dangerous to our health than a high BMI.
- “People will do anything for a $5 Starbucks card.”
- GlobalGiving.org is “running tests on you all the time” (freaking me a bit more) to figure out how to make users more generous.
- People will trust a company more if they can review their experience with it publicly. Even better: the company should disclose what they do well and what they do poorly.
Speaker: Angela Duckworth
Finally, Angela Duckworth made a very engaging presentation on self-control:
- Jerry Seinfeld got the present vs. future self conundrum right.
- Here’s how to hack yourself to be more productive, in order of effectiveness:
- Situation Selection: Select your physical situation (social situation: hang around others who are self-disciplined.
- Situation Modification: eliminate distractions, like Odysseus e.g., turn off your phone.
- Selective Attention: Look away.
- Cognitive reappraisal: think about it differently, e.g. as if a fly on the wall
- Just do it: least effective. You really want to plan ahead.
- Finally, in sweet opposition to Ms. Landsman’s exploitation comment, Ms. Duckworth affirmed, “We have to at some point let people in on the nudge…that’s the only way to make it stick.”
Last thoughts: Who wins?
I came away with some new friends and a number of ideas for our financial decision-making apps. For example, we will no longer ask people to think about a percentage change to their spending when they retire: we’ll talk about dollars.
My only quibble with the conference was the lack of attention to the ethics of behavioral economics. As the field finds more effective ways to nudge us to make decisions that are more profitable (Jet.com) or enhance our support of our government (City of Boston), when do we cross the line between benign influence and malign manipulation? My conversations with other participants convince me I’m not the only one concerned about this. My question is, does the field have a conscience?
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