Top 10 Reasons to Integrate Behavioral Science into your Organization

10. Human Computer Interaction (HCI) is here to stay. The five largest companies by market cap this year are technology companies.


Industry specific funding statistics show similar trends, for example, digital health:

Source: Rock Health 2016 YTD digital health funding

Understanding human needs and knowing why people behave the way they do can help companies build the right thing sooner. Behavioral scientists mitigate failure and decrease industry waste. On “why the coming behavioral science revolution will change product design as we know it” Jason Hreha in his recent Inc. article wrote “Behavioral science based design is new to most people. We’ve learned a massive amount about how people think and why they do what they do. Scientific studies offer us a better window into the human mind than self-serving conjecture.” Of course, the study of human behavior has been around forever, and in a world of HCI, behavioral scientists can expertly serve the “H” part of the equation to advocate for the humans.

9. Few organizations successfully leverage behavioral science, so it’s a competitive advantage. To date, most companies have integrated behavioral science in the form of consulting strategists or agencies. Slowly, though, we are seeing more companies post for full-time behavioral scientists. As one recruiter at a Fortune 500 company told me, “Behavioral science, especially applied in a corporate environment, is very new to our company. Before I started recruiting in this space, honestly, I had no idea roles and individuals with backgrounds like this existed. After networking and learning more about the ‘why’ and how it can add value, it makes sense. I foresee a lot of companies building up this function, which will make the market extremely competitive and challenging.”

Examples of companies that have behavioral science baked into their way of doing things include Instagram (sold for $1 billion to Facebook after being in market for less than two years — now with ~500 million active monthly accounts), Opower (sold for $532 million to Oracle this year — currently enabling 100 global utilities), and 7 Cups of Tea (winner of 2016 Stanford Medicine X Prize for Health Care Systems Design — receiving rave reviews from users).

8. Habits are good for business. It is expensive to acquire a customer, so ideally, you want that customer to develop routine with your offering. The ability to understand what products and how they can be used to inculcate habit-forming behaviours in your target customer base can lead to the design of a sustaining product,” stated best-selling author Nir Eyal. Behavioral scientists know how & why habits form, which is one reason why you might consider hiring psychology majors as product managers. When your company growth flattens out or starts decreasing, behavioral scientists can figure out why.

7. Brain and behavior science is getting better every day. Tools like fMRI, sensors, eye trackers, and wireless signals are providing more insights into why humans behave the way they do. For example, behavioral scientists at M.I.T. just developed the first known system able to read people’s emotions by bouncing wireless signals off a person’s body. New behavioral theories also provide guidance. The founder of Spire and one of my colleagues from the Stanford Calming Tech Lab, Dr. Neema Moraveji, developed a new interaction model to explain how humans and machines create more moments of calm in a day. Behavioral scientists not only design and conduct quality research, but they can translate the latest discoveries in meaningful ways.


6. There’s a lot of noise. We are living in a time of notification overload, which not only makes it harder for businesses to earn the attention of customers, but too many notifications can be destructive for our ability to focus. Behavioral scientists understand human attention, perception, cognition and decision making — all critical to figuring out how to differentiate your offering from the rest.

5. Behavioral science works, for both good and bad. The combination of behavioral science + design thinking is most commonly called behavior design. Headlines like “The Scientists who make Apps Addictive” and “Do we control our own spending habits?” give behavior design a bad name. The cover story of the newest edition of The Atlantic magazine “Addicted to your IPhone? You’re not Alone,” features Tristan Harris, a product philosopher who believes “A ‘Hippocratic Oath’ for software designers would stop the exploitation of people’s psychological vulnerabilities.” There is much debate around the ethics of persuasive behavior design.

There is no doubt that behavior designers have a responsibility to create for good, and that they are better than most at changing behavior. Effective behavior design is not a linear process, though, it requires rapid experimentation. Behavioral scientists know how to experiment, and many companies use behavioral science to make the world a better place, such as Nest, Healthvana, and Kurbo Health.

4. Behavioral science can set up your organization for meaningful design. Knowing your humans can make for a happier, healthier world. Advancements in technology are opening new doors every day to take what works well in real life and scale it. Easier said than done, but as Professor Scott Klemmer says, “Don’t replicate the physical experience. Take the spirit of the physical experience and enable what digital does well.” At the same time, rather than company leaders saying “Let’s see how well this product performs with customers” the ones winning are saying “Let’s see how well customers perform with this product.” The ROI of human-centered design is being shown over and over and over.

3. Professionals want to learn about it. The Action Design Meetup in San Francisco has over 2,000 members and regularly hosts ~100 attendees per monthly meeting. The course I c0-teach at Stanford, “The Consumer Mind and Behavior Design” historically has four times the number of applicants to available seats. Nir Eyal’s book “Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products” has been the best seller in its category on Amazon since it arrived in 2014. “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg spent 60 weeks on the NYTimes bestsellers list. BJ Fogg’s Persuasion Bootcamp has been running at capacity for years, and professional conferences such as the Habit Summit at Stanford and the inaugural Behavioral Science and Marketing Summit are sold out events.

2. The White House is doing it. On September 15, 2015, President Obama issued Executive Order 13707, “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People.” It meant that federal government agencies were to integrate behavioral science insights—research about how people make decisions and act on them—into the design of their policies and programs. This recognized that “behavioral science insights can support a range of national priorities, including helping workers to find better jobs; enabling Americans to lead longer, healthier lives; improving access to educational opportunities and support for success in school; and accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The Social and Behavioral Sciences Team just released the 2016 Annual Report with promising results, including a:

  • 53% increase in workplace savings plan enrollment rates by military service members;
  • 63% increase in the rate at which small family farmers obtained small-business loans;
  • doubled rate at which student loan borrowers in default contacted default-resolution representatives.

1. Behavioral science offers ways to successfully design for a one-time behavior. Not just habits and intermittent use, but even in the case of how to optimize a one-time behavioral outcome, behavioral scientists know how. And speaking of the White House, that might be a very good thing over these next few weeks.