|Preeti Anand is the Projects Director at ideas42, a non-profit that uses insights from behavioural science to improve lives, build better systems and policies, and drive social change.
What motivated you to work on Behavioural Science?
For me it happened by chance, I was interested in working on innovation driven projects in the development sector, especially financial inclusion and ideas42’s approach to apply behavioural science to design solutions to further digital financial inclusion hit the right chords with me. I had used Human Centred Design approach on earlier projects and Behavioral Design at ideas42 took that even a step further by applying structured process with strong analytics and rigorous testing.
What do you think is the future of Behavioural Science? What major challenges do you foresee?
Rather than predicting for the future, I hope that applied behavioural science in India becomes an integral part of not just development programs but also in product and process innovations for any kind of excluded populations. The real win for this fraternity would be when programs are no longer called specialised behavioural science programs, but it is an implied core part of the design process.
The challenge which I see in acceptance of behavioural science at a larger scale is that there is limited understanding of what it can do and there is no appetite for failure. While some think its just a bag of tricks, other get deterred by the longer in-depth process of diagnosis, designing and testing to see what works – and then also be ready for an iterative process.
Which behavioural scientist(s) do you admire the most and why?
I really like Katy Milkman’s podcasts, it provides one of the most practical glimpses of applied behavioral science across the world, with instances and stories ranging from decades back to the present.
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?
I don’t come from a Behavioural Science academic background, but I work with some of the smartest brains of the industry. To start with, one needs to unlearn many of the traditional theories which have been fed to us. The simplest example of that is that one cannot assume that humans make rational decision, that they would choose what is best for them. Another important skill for this field is the ability to empathise with the end-users or beneficiaries. To be able to understand the behaviours driving their decision making process, its very important to connect with users, establish a rapport and understand their contexts.
If you were starting your career again today, what would you do differently?
I would not change much about my career – before development sector, I worked with mainstream Strategy and Corporate Finance consulting which I value a lot as it imbibed rigour, discipline and diligence in my working style.
If anything at all, I would probably skip studying Engineering, if I knew my career choice would be to work in applied behavioural science in the development sector.
What books/publications would you like to recommend to our readers?
1. Scarcity – written by the ideas42 founders Eldar Shafir and Sendhil Mullainathan – connects directly with our work on a daily basis, most of which involves working with the lesser privileged, lower income population or people excluded from the mainstream in one form or the other. It gives insights into how just ‘scarcity’ of any form puts a huge cognitive strain on their decision making ability and that is something one must always remember when designing for any population.
2. Thinking fast and slow, by Daniel Kahneman is another gem which forms the fundamental basis of our everyday judgment and decision making, no matter which income level or background we come from. The universal applicability of these concepts is what makes it one of the best reads in this field.
3. Invisible women by Caroline Criado-Perez is an eye opener in the way it presents to us how a huge bias in the gender data has led to a world which is ignoring half the population. Even being a woman, I fail to see these subtle biases all around me due to years of conditioning and acceptance of status quo.
What is your favourite quote in Behavioural Science?
About behavioural science “Don’t simplify the science and nobody understands it, oversimplify it and it comes across as a box of tricks”
Not sure which podcast I heard this on, but it stayed with me and I quote it often.
How do you apply the notions of Behavioural Science in your personal life?
I can’t overcome my biases, but I have become more cognizant of them. Sometimes I recognise I am being present biased, loss averse or ostriching, I then consciously try to apply the common nudges like setting up reminders, calendar slots, goal setting, commitment device – at times they work, but at times they don’t, especially when the present is too tempting (like the marshmallows). Couple of nudges which helped me stay regular with my exercise routine has been – keeping my exercise clothes out so I see them first thing in the morning and a buddy system.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I believe all people are well intentioned, if not for anyone else, they want the best for themselves, which is fair too. I believe that whatever anyone does or speak, any decision or action they take is right from their perspective, even if it doesn’t seem right to others. They have a reason to act in a certain way and others neither have sufficient knowledge about it nor can they understand the situation from that person’s point of view.