Dilip Soman

Dilip Soman is a Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Science and Economics, and Director of the Behavioural Economics in Action Research Centre at Rotman. He is the author of the well-known book “The Last Mile”.

What motivated you to work on Behavioural Science?
My time working in sales and advertising, and more generally observing people around me!

What do you think is the future of Behavioural Science in the next five, and ten years? What major challenges do you foresee?
The future is bright. The field is growing and attracting a breadth of talent, governments and businesses are embracing it and people are bringing in new tools, problems and application areas.
The major challenge is to continue increasing our relevance. In particular, how can we best embed our science in organisations, and how can we go beyond pilots and trials to successfully scale interventions without a “voltage drop”?

Which behavioural scientist(s) do you admire the most and why?
Richard Thaler. He could have written many more papers than he did, but he wrote fewer and made each one them a gem. His research was always paradigm-shifting; he made us think about common problems in a different way. And most importantly, his work was about the world and not about the theory. A few other people I admire (and who share the same characteristics) are Sendhil Mullainathan, Rohini Pande, Colin Camerer and George Loewenstein.

What advice would you give to a beginner in Behavioural Science? What are some of the crucial skills one has to develop to succeed in this field?
1) The best inspiration for your research is the world around you. Be genuinely curious about why people do what they do!
2) Be humble; the results of your study are never the final word.
3) Be scientific; engage in debate and discussion, be careful of overclaiming and learn from others. And, keep learning and evolving.
4) Science is like a conversation. If you are the only one researching and publishing in a particular area, it may be time to take a hard look at what you are doing.
5) Science should have an impact. Make sure you think about what the impact of your work could be.

If you were starting your career again today, what would you do differently?
Nothing really! This may be because I can’t visualise my career any other way.

What has been the most productive period in your career and why?
This is a tough one. I’d simply say that the nature of productivity has changed over my career. In the earlier years, it was more about academic papers, in the later years more about impact.

What books/publications would you like to recommend to our readers?
1) Scarcity (Shafir and Mullainathan)
2) Misbehaving (Thaler)
3) Poor Economics (Banerjee and Duflo)
And if I can also make a plug for a forthcoming edited book, “The Behaviourally Informed Organization” [Soman and Yeung, University of Toronto Press, March 2021]

How do you apply the notions of Behavioural Science in your personal life?
I think my notions of behavioural science arise from observations from my personal life, so there’s a bit of reverse causality there!

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