Deconstructing and shaping
the thinking behind
and behavior change
Every message, digital tool, policy, or training is designed with a goal: to steer behavior and decisions.
Too often, they miss the mark.
By focusing on psychology, intuition, context, and the broader systems in which they are embedded, I specialize in pinpointing why behavior change strategies so often fail to achieve lasting outcomes, and then develop solutions that drive enduring positive change, and allow expertise to flourish.
Case-study at a glance:
Nudged users to incorporate behaviorally informed elements into their content, encouraging further engagement with the service.
What I do
Navigating the complexities of human limitations, I leverage behavioral insights to achieve human exceptionality. I do this by drawing on two main areas of research.
Decision Science draws from a wide range of fields and research to understand how people actually make decisions, and how they should make decisions.
It is contentious topic to ask how people should make decisions, so I use various fields of research and schools of thought in order to get a comprehensive view and triangulate the best decision process. But, ultimately, the right approach always depends on the context.
Behavioral Science is a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding and causing behavior change.
Behavior Change is a fact of life. Everything we do, from designing a house, to sending a text, to implementing a policy is an attempt to change someone's behavior. But that does not mean we know how to do it well. There are no silver bullets in Behavioral Science, but if we learn enough about the context, we can design tailor fit interventions for any situation.
Expertise develops when a person interacts with a stable and responsive environment and as a result, is able to recognize patterns and form accurate mental models. This ability is sometimes called intuition, or tacit knowledge.
“Decision researchers were trying to reduce errors, which is important, but we also needed to help people gain expertise and make insightful decisions.” - Gary Klein
Heuristics are cognitive shortcuts that simplify decision-making. Heuristics can be adaptive, or not, depending on the context.
“Intelligent decision-making entails knowing what tool to use for what problem.” - Gerd Gigerenzer
Choices are not made in a vacuum but are influenced by a multitude of factors in how the choice is presented. Understanding and shaping those influences is called Choice Architecture. If you are presenting a choice to someone, you are a Choice Architect whether you want to be or not.
“A choice architect has the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions.” - Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein
Biases are systematic deviations from "rational" models. Rational models, despite the name, are not always so rational. Nevertheless, the terminology of biases, and its sister "noise", can still be helpful for thinking about errors in human decision-making.
“The premise of this book is that it is easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than our own.” - Daniel Kahneman
Coined by Nassim Taleb, Black Swans are highly improbable events with significant impact and the tendency to be rationalized with hindsight. Black Swans are evidence of the limits and danger of the inferences we make when forming generalizations, models and theories.
“The problem with experts is that they do not know what they do not know” - Nassim Taleb
All models are wrong, some are useful. But by combining many models and points of view, we can triangulate and be less wrong and get more value.
“When our thinking is informed by diverse logically consistent, empirically validated frames, we are more likely to make wise choices.” - Scott Page
Complexity is not just complicated, nor does it mean unpredictable chaos. It is something in between and gives rise to surprising behavior and predictable patterns which can be studied and understood.
“Living systems are never in equilibrium. They are inherently unstable. They may seem stable, but they’re not. Everything is moving and changing. In a sense, everything is on the edge of collapse.” - Ian Malcolm
Mental models are how we understand and represent something in our mind. You have mental models of people, places, things, events, decisions, processes, patterns, etc. A good mental model is what enables good decision-making.
“Most geniuses—especially those who lead others—prosper not by deconstructing intricate complexities but by exploiting unrecognized simplicities.” - Shane Parrish
Sensemaking is the process that precedes decision-making. It is the process by which you start to formulate the choice you are going to make by figuring out what is relevant, what your goals are, what constraints exist, which mental models to draw from, the causal relationships, etc.
"Solving a problem simply means representing it so as to make the solution transparent" - Herbert Simon
Forecasting tournaments (and prediction markets) ask users to make predictions which are tracked over time. The top 2% of forecasters are called Superforecasters. The set of techniques they use can be taught, and can help us determine how reliable our model of the world is.
“Fuzzy thinking can never be proven wrong. And only when we are proven wrong so clearly that we can no longer deny it to ourselves will we adjust our mental models of the world—producing a clearer picture of reality. Forecast, measure, revise: it is the surest path to seeing better.” - Phillip Tetlock
A Nudge is a small change to the context which, despite no option being forbidden or incentivized, affects behavior. Depending on how you define it, nudges are either small and overrated, or so all pervasive that the concept loses meaning. Consequently, the field seems to be moving away from the term.
“Small and apparently insignificant details can have major impacts on people’s behavior. A good rule of thumb is to assume that everything matters.”- Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein
Complex systems are often stable and resist being influenced. But oftentimes there is a key leverage point that, when pulled at, will cause massive shifts in behavior.
“People know intuitively where leverage points are. Time after time I’ve done an analysis of a company and I’ve figured out a leverage point…Then I’ve gone to the company and discovered that there’s already a lot of attention to that point. Everyone is trying very hard to push it in the wrong direction.” - Jay Forrester
Motivation is less like a battery, and more like an economic system. Your body is constantly making trade-offs, storing resources for a rainy day, and creating liquidity for when the time is right.
“Your brain is not for thinking. Everything that it conjures, from thoughts to emotions to dreams, is in the service of body-budgeting.” - Lisa Feldman Barrett
Habits are automatic behaviors trained up through cue and response. They are subconscious, difficult to form, and hard to break.
“You—your goals, your will, your wishes—don’t have any part to play in habits. Goals can orient you to build a habit, but your desires don’t make habits work. Actually, your habit self would benefit if “you” just got out of the way.” - Wendy Wood
In a lab, psychologists control for context so they can study human behavior. But in the real world, context is not so easily controlled. The world is dynamic, complex, and refuses to be fully controlled for.
“Behavioral Science is not a collection of one-size-fits-all solutions; it's a continuous process of studying and adapting to unique contexts so that we can identify how a change to that context will lead to other changes.”
Humans are first and foremost social creatures. Because of this, people are strongly influenced by what they think others are doing, and what they think others think that they should be doing.
"Wherever there is a human group there are social norms." - Christina Bicchieri
Gamification is oversold and little understood. Nevertheless, game designers are masters at behavior change. People do not play games for the reward, they play the games for the struggle. Understanding how game designers make a struggle enjoyable is the key question in gamification.
"In games, the problems can be right-sized for our capacities; our in-game selves can be right-sized for the problems; and the arrangement of self and world can make solving the problems pleasurable, satisfying, interesting, and beautiful." - Thi Nguyen
Incentives matter. Whether monetary, social, or other, incentives always win in the long run.
“People respond to incentives. The rest is commentary.” - Steven Landsburg
Systems Thinking is an approach that recognizes that nothing happens in isolation, and that everything must be understood by looking at how things relate. It also recognizes that systems can have a "mind" of their own.
“A system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose.” - Donella Meadows
Designing for an experience is a means towards designing for behavior. If an experience is easy, pleasurable, memorable, easily shared, etc. It can greatly influence the success of a product.
“Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.” - Don Norman
Hover your cursor over the hashtag boxes to see more detail