Torben Emmerling

Torben is Founder and Managing Partner of Affective Advisory, the author of the D.R.I.V.E. Framework for applied behavioural science. He is a Founding Member and Non Executive Director on the Board of the Global Association of Applied Behavioural Scientists GAABS, a Board Member of the Behavioral Insights for better Politics and Societies Initiative BIPS.

What motivated you to work on Behavioural Science?
My interest in why, when and how humans make all kinds of decisions is one of the main reasons I work in this field today. I have always had a desire to better understand the differences between traditional economic and social theoretical models and the true observable behaviour of people. My drive to address challenges of private and public organisations with scientific insights and evidence based methods encouraged me to work in this field.

What do you think is the future of Behavioural Science in the next five, and ten years? What major challenges do you foresee?
In general, I think we are only at the beginning of a global behavioural revolution. Various governments, ministries, NGOs and companies are just starting to appreciate the value of integrating more human centred, data-driven and evidence-based approaches to policy and strategy.

In terms of the field, I expect to see further professionalisation in practical applications and trainings. I also believe we will see more collaboration between academia and practice to better understand how interventions work in real policy and business situations.

And in terms of projects, I think (and hope) we will see a move towards more predictive and less descriptive research, which will further improve the effectiveness of boosts and nudges in organisational and societal settings.

Which behavioural scientist(s) do you admire the most and why?
On the academic side, I admire Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky for their incredibly inspiring studies that have challenged more traditional disciplines to think differently about human decisions and interactions. I admire Richard Thaler for his detailed and elegant experiments and for his ability to express complex relationships in a beautifully simple way, and Robert Cialdini and John List for their unparalleled amount of valuable field experiments.

On the practitioner side, I admire David Halpern and the founding team of BIT for their pioneering work in applying behavioural insights to public policy, Rory Sutherland and his team for their creative narratives, and a group of dear friends and colleagues all around the world for their pathfinder role in applying behavioural science in practice for almost ten years.

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?
Firstly, I think you need to be interested in people’s judgement and decision-making processes. You need a drive to understand the reasons and influences of behaviour in a social and organisational context.

Secondly, you need the ability to analyse, interpret and identify effects. You should enjoy experimentation and scientific work. I also believe that a good understanding and handling of data will become increasingly important in the future.

Thirdly, I believe you need a certain level of creativity to develop and try out new ideas, both in academia and in practice. You should dare to test and learn.

Fourthly, I think that a field as diverse as behavioural science offers many opportunities for individual specialisations, allowing each person to pick an individual focus for her or his own work.

And last but not least, you should have fun and thoroughly enjoy what you are doing.

If you were starting your career again today, what would you do differently?
Applied behavioural science has evolved considerably over the last 10 years, and so has my career and our organisation. I am very happy and grateful for all our experiences and achievements so far and I wouldn’t want to change very much. Looking back from today’s perspective, I might have tried to conduct even more field experiments, seek even more connections between academia and practice, and build up even more specialised data science and design expertise. Fully aware of hindsight bias, I would have also invested in Apple, when I bought an iPhone in about 2008, and in Tesla, when I first thought that electric cars are kind of cool in about 2018.

What books/publications would you like to recommend to our readers? (around 3)
“Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
“Principles” by Ray Dalio
“The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman
“Choiceology” a podcast from Charles Schwab hosted by Katy Milkman
“The Behavioral Design Podcast” by Samuel Salzer and Aline Holzwarth

What is your favourite quote in Behavioural Science?
“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it.” by Daniel Kahneman. Relevant for behavioural science, and for life in general.

How do you apply the notions of Behavioural Science in your personal life?
It is unfortunately incredibly hard to notice shortcomings and biases in our own judgements. I try to help myself by slowing down, simplifying, changing perspective, applying frameworks, and following the above advice by Kahneman as much as possible.

Tell us something interesting about yourself most people don’t know. (optional)
I enjoy swimming and used to be a coach and lifeguard. All you feel is the water, your body and your breath and can switch off very effectively. The training helps me to concentrate and gain new ideas

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