The 10 dont’s if you want to be successful

IMG_0642-small-filteredIn 2011, one of our research heroes, prof. Robin Hogarth, gave a fascinating and inspiring talk at the early career event of SPUDM23. At IndecisionBlog, we thought it would be useful to publish his talk on “the 10 dont’s” if you  want to succeed as a researcher.

General point: Enjoy life because you’re long dead (Scottish proverb).

10 important DON’Ts

1. Work on topics you are not really interested in.

2. Choose colleagues/advisors based just on status.

3. Ignore comments/advice of senior colleagues.

4. “Take your eye off the ball.

5. Ignore teaching.

6. Over-teach (the rewards are immediate).

7. Ignore refereeing duties (always answer quickly and particularly if you cannot do the review)

8. Fail to keep your CV and web-site up-to-date.

9. Miss important conferences.

10. Ignore the network.

Some points to emphasize:

1. You have two bosses: your university and the profession. Demands can conflict.

2. In teaching rewards are immediate and frequent; this is not the case for research.

3. Always remember that “every talk is a job talk.

Research Heroes: Ellen Peters

peters

This week’s Research Hero is Prof. Ellen Peters. Prof. Peters received her M.S. and Ph.D. from the Department of Psychology, University of Oregon in 1994 and 1998, respectively. She is currently a professor in the Psychology Department at The Ohio State University. She works extensively with the National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration to advance the science of human decision making. Prof. Peters’ research focuses on how affective, intuitive, and deliberative processes help people to make decisions in an increasingly complex world. She studies numeracy and number processing, how affect and emotion influence information processing and decisions, and how information processing and decision making change across the adult life span. Prof. Peters has received over 10 academic awards, been on the editorial board of various academic journals, published numerous articles and continues to be one of the experts in medical decision making. 

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career… how much fun research can be. It is serious business in some ways, but the process of discovering something new about the human mind is simply fascinating. What we study is so much more complex than other “hard” sciences that it continues to amaze me that we can and do find some order in the chaos.

I most admire academically… I most admire people who combine great scientific rigor with a desire (and actions) to do some good in the world because we only get one life time to try to make a difference.  There are many examples including Paul Slovic, Elke Weber, Baruch Fischhoff, Eric Johnson, Laura Carstensen, Karen Emmons, and countless others (my apologies if I forgot to name you).

The best research project I have worked on during my career… is about something we called evaluative categories and how they influence judgments and choices about health insurance plans and hospitals. It started off as a topic that looked really boring (sorry Judy Hibbard!); it ended up being a great blend of basic and applied research. Although it’s among my favorite projects, it took the longest to publish!

The worst research project I have worked on during my career… I’ve learned something from all of them.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research… This experience is my most memorable but also the saddest. It also taught me a lot about the research process. We were doing a study for HCFA (Medicare) with older adults subjects.  I was doing cognitive interviews with some materials in a senior center. One of my participants was having some surprising difficulty with a relatively easy task. As we talked about it, she suddenly broke down crying.  It turned out that her husband had died about a year ago and he had always made these kinds of insurance and other money decisions for them. What I thought was a simply comprehension task was filled with grief and powerful narrative for her. The “decision” she faced was completely different from the one that I thought I had given her.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance… I think I’ve told them!

A research project I wish I had done… Any time I have wanted to do a research project, I have done it. We’ve gone to Africa and Peru, worked with older adults and younger, and have studied theoretical topics from affect and emotion to numeracy and applied topics from health-plan choices to donation behaviors to climate change.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…Writing fiction or running a restaurant with my husband.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years… Be relevant. Develop theory because this is what is needed. At the same time, the theory needs to matter to “something that matters.”

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is… Pay attention to opportunities and take some risks.  Whether the opportunities you find actually benefit you is probabilistic (just like everything else in life), but taking a chance is often worth it.

Do what you enjoy or feel is important to society, hopefully both.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get to enjoy doing most of it. I’ve been really lucky.

It’s good to have your own money – spend time writing and rewriting grant proposals.

Departmental website

APS 2013- Top Tweets, Moments, and Advice

flash mobThe Association for Psychological Science (APS) had its 25th birthday in Washington, DC this weekend. And to celebrate they pulled out all the stops including a flash mob, a fancy hotel across from the zoo, a concert, a huge line up of top notch invited speakers,  and APS branded merchandise.

APS also was the first conference this author has ever visited that successfully and widely  got attendees to use twitter. This allowed both science and general advice on research to go public immediately. At Indecision Blog, we love how the internet opens up scientific communication, so we were excited by how Internet-heavy APS was this year.

Below we have aggregated the top moments, pieces of advice, and general tweets from #APS2013DC. We recommend you go through the #APS2013DC on twitter itself but given the number of tweets we warn you that is quite an undertaking. So start off with our summary below.

Advice and Thoughts on Research Process

meeting people

https://twitter.com/matingmind/status/338295229620834306

https://twitter.com/matingmind/status/338281255214936067

Funny and Witty Tweets

party image

https://twitter.com/matingmind/status/338442968874770432

https://twitter.com/matingmind/status/338036756748316672

The Actual Science

The APS website did a fantastic job of summarizing many talks, moments, and even posting videos on their Daily Observation blog. Check out all the entries between May 23rd and May 26th. You can even watch the entire Molecules and Mind address.

Also make sure to just search #APS2013DC for the top tweets about the science.

Here are a few of our random favorites.

https://twitter.com/matingmind/status/337998372889849856

Contribute

Did you hear a piece of advice at APS we missed? Was there a great talk people should make sure to check out either via the Daily Observation blog or a paper? Was there a new interesting perspective you gained from the conference? Do you want to share your poster or slides to promote your research? Tell us in the comments and be sure to include any applicable links.

Also amen to this tweet praising APS’s biggest live tweeter:

Viewpoint: Why social science grad students make great product managers

Litvak
A couple of months ago we featured Paul Litvak from Google in our Outside the Matrix series. After his interview, his inbox was inundated with questions from readers and he recently wrote a response on his own blog which we thought was so fantastic we wanted to republished it on InDecision as well. So, this week Paul shares his views on why social science grad students make excellent product managers. Note: even if you’re not a grad student yourself, it’s worth reading Paul’s views in case you’re ever in a position to hire one! 

After my interview with InDecision Blog, a number of graduate students emailed asking me about careers in technology (hey, I asked for it). They were a very impressive lot from top universities, but their programming skills varied quite a bit. Some less technically minded folks were looking at careers in technology aside from data scientist. Enough of them asked specifically about product management, so I thought I would combine my answers for others who might be interested.

What does a product manager do?
Brings the donuts. The nice thing about social science grad students for whom reading about product managers is news is that we can skip over the aggrandized misconceptions about product management that many more familiar with the technology space might harbor. The product manager is the person (or persons) that stands at the interface between an engineering team building a product and the outside world (here includes not only the customers/users of the product, but also the other teams within a given company who might be working on related products). The product manager is in charge of protecting the “vision” of the product. Sometimes they come up with that vision, but more often than not, the scope of what the product should be and what features it needs to have today, next week, or next year is something that emerges out of interactions between the engineers, the engineers’ manager, the product manager, company executives, etc etc. The product manager is really just the locus of where that battle plays out. So obviously there is a great need for politicking at times as well.

But wait, there’s more! Once the product is actually launched, it is typically still worked on and improved (or fixed). So the product manager is also the person that gets to figure out how to prioritize the various additional work that could be done. But how do they figure out what needs to be changed or fixed? This is one of the places where research comes in! So someone like me might do analysis on the data of people’s actual usage of the product (the product manager prioritized getting the recording of people’s actions properly instrumented, right? RIGHT?). Or a qualitative researcher might conduct interviews of users in the field and try and abstract an understanding from that. Either way, the product manager has to make sense of all this incoming information and figure out how to allocate resources accordingly.

Why would social science graduate students be good at that?
Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this. Products are increasing in scope. Even a simple app has potentially tens of thousands of users. Quantitative methods are becoming increasingly important for understanding what customers do. In such an environment, being savvy about data is hugely advantageous. In the same way that many product managers benefit from computer science degrees without coding on a daily basis, product managers will benefit from knowing statistics, along with domain expertise in psychology, sociology, anthropology even if they aren’t the ones collecting and analyzing the data themselves. It will help them ask the right questions and to when to trust results, and when to be more skeptical. It will help them operationalize their measures of success more intelligently.

The soft skills of graduate school also translate more nicely. Replace “crazy advisor” with “manager” (hopefully a good one) and replace “fellow graduate students” with “other product managers” and many of the lessons apply. Many graduate social scientists will have plenty of experience with being part of a lab and engaging in large-scale collaborative projects. Just like in graduate school, a typical product manager will spend hours fine tuning slide decks and giving high stakes presentations meant to convince skeptical elders of the merit of a certain course of research (replace with: feature, product, or strategy).

Finally, building technology products is a kind of applied social science. You start with a hypothesis about a problem that people are having that you can solve. Of course, as a social scientist, the typical grad student understands just how fraught this is! Anthropologist readers of James Scott and Jane Jacobs and economists who love their Hayek will have a keen appreciation for spontaneous order (“look! users are using this feature in a totally unexpected way!”), as well as the difficulties of a priori theories of users’ problems or competencies. In fact, careful reading of social science should make a fledging PM pretty skeptical of grand theories. For instance–should interfaces be simpler or more complicated? How efficient should we make it to do some set of common actions? If everything is easily accessible from one click on the front page, will there be overload of too many buttons? Is that simpler or more complicated? These sorts of debates, much like debates about the function of particular social institutions or legal proscriptions, are not easily solved with simple bromides like “less is always better”, or “more clear rules, less discretion” (I am reading Simpler: The Future of Government by Cass Sunstein right now, and he makes this point very well with respect to regulations). The ethos of the empirical social scientist is to look for incremental improvements bringing all of our particularist knowledge to bear on a problem, not to solve everything with one sweeping gesture. This openness is exactly the right mentality for a product manager, in my opinion.

Conclusion
I hope I have at least partially convinced you that as an empirical social scientist, you would make a great product manager. Now the question is, how do I convince someone in technology of that? The short and most truthful answer is, I’m not 100% certain. It might take some work to break into project management, but I see lots of people with humanities background doing it, so it can’t be that hard (One of my favorite Google PMs is an English PhD). One thing I would suggest is carefully framing your resume to emphasize your PM-pertinent skills–things like, group project management, public speaking experience, making high stakes presentations, etc. You might also consider making a small persuasive deck to show as a portfolio example of a situation where you convinced someone of something (your dissertation proposal could work?). This would be a great start. Another thing is consider more junior PM roles initially–as a PhD coming out of grad school you are still going to make a fine salary as an entry-level product manager. If you apply these principles I have no doubt that you will quickly move up.

Read Paul’s original interview here.

Research Heroes: Robert B. Cialdini

CialdiniThis week’s Research Hero is Robert B. Cialdini, Regents’ Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. Prof Cialdini’s research focuses on, but is not limited to, social influences and persuasion. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award of the Society for Consumer Psychology, the Donald T. Campbell Award for Distinguished Contributions to Social Psychology, the (inaugural) Peitho Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Science of Social Influence, the Distinguished Scientist Award of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, and has been elected president of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. Professor Cialdini’s book Influence: Science and Practice, which was the result of a three-year program of study into the reasons that people comply with requests in everyday settings, has sold over two million copies while appearing in numerous editions and twenty-eight languages.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career to avoid being overcommitted and, thereby, constantly rushed. In my experience, it is the single self-inflicted problem that, when left to expand, has most undermined the joy of doing research.

I most admire academically William McGuire because he was the consummate combination of big-picture theorist and precise-picture experimentalist.

The project that I am most proud of took me out of my comfort zone as a researcher predicting (mostly from theoretical formulations) the responses of experimental subjects (mostly college students) in controlled settings (mostly laboratories) and put me, as a kind of secret agent, in the training programs of the influence professionals of our society. There, I recorded the lessons taught to aspiring salespeople, marketers, advertisers, managers, fund-raisers, public relations specialists, and recruiters. My intent was to find out which practices were roundly judged to work powerfully time after time, figuring that thriving influence organizations would instruct their influence agents in those techniques. So I answered the organizations’ newspaper ads for trainees or otherwise arranged to be present in their classrooms, notebook in hand, ready to absorb the wisdom born of longstanding experience in the business of persuasion.  That experience of going to the field for evidence, rather than only to the laboratory, changed my perspective on the most productive ways to study the social influence process.

The one project that I should never had done, in keeping with my answer to question #1, was always the one that was so attractive that I agreed to it even though I already had too many projects on my plate to accept another. The consequence was that, invariably, all the projects suffered from my inability to give each the time, energy, and focus it deserved.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research occurred during one of a series of meetings with the local blood services organization to get their assistance with a research project investigating how to get citizens to give blood. Although we thought that we had made a compelling case for mutual benefit, the organization’s chief administrator hung back from authorizing our project. It wasn’t until a junior member of his staff quietly informed us of the reason for her boss’s reluctance that we understood what we had left out of our persuasive approach. “None of you has given blood yet,” she whispered during a break in the meeting. Mildly chastised but properly enlightened, we asked just before the meeting’s close how we might contribute to the organization’s important goals by donating a pint or two of blood ourselves. An opportunity was arranged, blood was drained, and full approval of our project followed within the week.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance doesn’t exist, as I am an inveterate story-teller.

A research project I wish I had done would have followed up empirically on a theoretical piece I wrote a few years ago in which I offered a rationale—beyond the traditional one based on the economic consequences of a damaged reputation—for why organizations should steer sharply away from unethical persuasive practices: Those practices will lend themselves to the attraction and retention of employees who find cheating personally acceptable and who will ultimately cheat the organization as a consequence. Fortunately along with a pair of brilliant collaborators, Jessica Li and Adriana Samper, I am finally beginning that project.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be looking for a way to do this.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years is demonstrating convincingly to individuals outside of the academic research community the value of our thinking, findings, and (research-based) approach to the problems they confront regularly.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is always have a foil. For maximum scholarly impact, never test your hypothesis just against the null. Always test it against at least one competing conceptual hypothesis.

I got interested in doing research on social influence because I was raised in an entirely Italian family, in a predominantly Polish neighborhood, in a historically German city (Milwaukee), in an otherwise rural state. I often ascribe my interest in the social influence process to an early recognition that the groups populating those settings had to be approached somewhat differently in order to obtain their assent, sometimes to the identical request. It also struck me that one reason for this complication was that the social norms—the characteristic tendencies and codes of conduct of the groups—differed. Therefore, if I wanted to maximize compliance with a request from a member of one or another of these groups, it would be wise to take into account the dominant social norms of that particular unit.

My recommendations for young researchers interested in studying social influence is get into the field. It’s possible to do soundly conducted, properly controlled studies and experiments in naturally-occurring settings. It might be substantially more inconvenient; but, provided the work is soundly conducted and properly controlled, the data will be more meaningful—and the effort consequently worth it.

Departmental website

Viewpoint: Raised on TED – The Inspirations

Last week Troy talked about the dangers of young researchers being raised on TED. However, it’s not all doom and gloom: there are a lot of good and inspiring elements that come out of TED, too. 

Inspiration #1: Do Stuff that Matters

stage

TED inspires us to do things that matter. Every talk is proof that the ivory tower can make big changes far from campuses. If you have any doubts just watch TED talks by science advocates like Rory Sutherland and Daniel Pink.

Researchers have a tendency to think esoterically or on too small a scale. TED helps to remind us that even if we never reach that TED podium, our research can contribute to solutions on a worldwide stage.

New people to the field may not realize that before the days of TED, Malcolm Gladwell, and the Internet, the public and private organizations did not care as much about behavioral science or arguably about science in general. Behavioral scientists were fighting to matter – just ask Richard Thaler. Today we have the opportunity to see our work go global but it does not mean we should abandon basic science or only do micro-applied work. It means young researchers should keep an eye open for where research can matter and be consumed by the public and mangers.

Inspiration #2: Communication is Important

Layout 1

Science should be a service to others. Some science can serve others without ever being communicated on a wide scale. However, much behavioral science can serve others through mass communication. TED reminds us of the importance of communicating research beyond a 101 introductory class.

Though some often criticize scientists’ mad rush to the popular press, it is indisputable that a popular press filled with good behavioral science would be a good thing. Some scientific findings don’t belong in the public eye because the findings are unclear, complex, or not relevant.But every issue of a scientific journal (at least in fields like behavioral sciences) has at least one paper that deserves public attention. If that’s your paper, work on getting it out there. You’ll benefit and the world will benefit.

Inspiration #3: Scientists Should Communicate Science

Side note - has there ever been a cooler picture of scientist than this one?

Side note – has there ever been a cooler picture of scientist than this one? It’s like they hired J.J. Abrams to put the perfect lens flare on it.

Not everyone is able, should, or wants to communicate on a TED stage, but those who can should. Scientists should get a few hours of media training from their university and get in front of audiences. Journalists are wonderful, but they often mess our science up. If we want our science communicated properly, then we need to communicate it ourselves.

Many universities want professors and graduate students to write opinion pieces and articles to get science out in the public. Contact your university’s Press office and you could have an article in a respectable paper within weeks. It won’t be the New York Times, but you’ll get experience, writer credits, and you’ll be educating readers. Additionally, many local groups, departments, and meet-up clubs are always on the lookout for speakers. You can go give your own TED-like talk to these groups in your area.

Finally, many professors recommend writing blogs and popular press articles because writing constantly helps to refine one’s scientific communication skills. Writing and presenting for the public forces one to complete a full argument on regular basis—something we don’t get with academic writing. In addition, science journals (even journals like Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) are more and more looking for concisely written articles, so public writing can be good practice.

Concluding Thoughts

So is TED a danger or inspiration? Like any modern intervention it is what you draw it that matters. TED encourages us to get public and real-world with our work, but it does not  mean abandon theory for entertaining real-world results. Every TED speaker from our field is a great theoretician and that’s what that person got on that stage, keep that up but with an eye on the real world.

Research Heroes: Gerd Gigerenzer

gigerenzer_gerd_rgb_2006_webThis week on Research Heroes we’re featuring professor Gerd Gigerenzer who is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and former Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago. He has won the AAAS Prize for the best article in the behavioral sciences and the Association of American Publishers Prize for the best book in the social and behavioral sciences. His award-winning popular books Calculated Risks: How To Know When Numbers Deceive You, and Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious have been translated into 18 languages and his academic books include The Empire of Chance,Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart, Rationality for Mortals, and Bounded Rationality: The Adaptive Toolbox (with Reinhard Selten, a Nobel Laureate in economics). Together with the Bank of England, he works on the project “Simple heuristics for a safer world.” He has trained managers, U.S. Federal Judges and German physicians in decision-making and understanding risk and uncertainty. 

I wish that someone had told me at the beginning that research and writing is more fun than playing Jazz and Dixieland (my previous career).

I most admire academically Herbert Simon, because he was no respecter of disciplinary boundaries. There are two ways to do research: one is to identify with a discipline, and to research whatever topics others do; the other is to identify with a problem, and use the knowledge and methods from various disciplines to solve it. Real innovation almost always comes from problem-oriented research.

Asking about the best research project I have worked is like asking me to single out a Wagner opera as my favorite – like the operas, the projects mostly build on each other and form a single body of work.

The worst research project I was involved in: In the early phases of discovering cognitive heuristics, some researchers at my center were overly enthusiastic about the predictive accuracy of a particular heuristic in forecasting sports results. Fortunately for us, the press followed its usual pattern of announcing a dramatic result and just as quickly forgetting it.

The most memorable experience when I was doing research was Ulrich Hoffrage’s and my totally unexpected discovery of the “less-is-more” effect. Initially we were dismayed by this counter-intuitive result, which ruined the experiment in question, but answering the question of how it could be so led to the fast-and-frugal heuristics program.

The one story I always wanted to tell: Up to now my audiences have been kind enough to listen to all of my stories. My books Rationality for Mortals and Gut Feelings are full of stories about research.

A research project I wish I had done: Hmm. When I trained about 1,000 physicians as part of a Continuing Medical Education program to understand risk und uncertainty, I learned that about 80% of physicians are statistically illiterate. I always wondered why medical schools don’t teach medical students to understand evidence, and why most patients, including academics, nevertheless blindly trust their doctors. And why so few psychologists are willing to leave their labs and go out and teach doctors. That would be an important research project I always wanted to do. And probably will.

If I weren’t doing this, I would be a guitar or piano player with my former jazz band.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years lies in studying how one should rationally deal with unknown risks (“uncertainty”), as opposed to known risks (“risk”). Uncertainty means that not all alternatives, consequences and probabilities are known – as in most of our decisions. Under uncertainty, one cannot optimize and has to rely on smart heuristics. Probability theory and logic are the tools for known risks; heuristics and intuition are those for uncertainty. This distinction is not always respected, and there are still many who believe that subjective probability theory would be the only tool that is needed to make good decisions.

My advice: If you are average and unimaginative, do what the others do and pursue a decent career. If you are brilliant and smart, try to think deep, be bold and take professional risks. 

Departmental website

Viewpoint: Raised on TED – The Dangers

tedblog

This week Troy reflects on his own experiences of being raised on TED and shares thoughts based on conversations he has with many professors about TED and the structure of research. 

The lights dim, the red TED logo glows and the researcher steps on stage. The researchers begins with an emotional anecdote, identifies a world problem, cracks a joke, shows a graph, and then the crowd rises in thunderous applause.  Another 18 minutes of edge-of-your-seat science ends and somewhere a graduate student clicks away from YouTube and back to her data.

We are the first generation of scientists raised on TED videos. There is no denying that TED affects our research goals and research styles. So is TED dangerous or inspirational to young researchers?

This first post looks at the dangers, and next week we’ll look at some of the inspirations.

Danger #1: Remember that 18 minute talk took 18 years of research.

One problem many students have is that they enter graduate school with TED as their blue print for research. It is important to remember that those TED speakers were neither as good at public speaking nor as prolific in research when they began their graduate careers. In their pasts, they focused on only a few topics, made mistakes, and needed to establish themselves before they became science rock stars.

This danger can be fixed by using recently placed graduate students as blueprints for success. At the next conference instead of stalking a TED speaker, choose to meet up with successful young researchers and find out what that researcher did to succeed. As an additional bonus, the chances are that young research will also have more time to spend with you.

Danger #2: The Goal of Science is not Public Entertainment

John Hodgman (pictured) is an entertaining making a point. Scientists are point makers occasionally entertaining.

John Hodgman (pictured) is an entertainer who occasionally makes a point. Scientists are point makers who occasionally entertain.

The goal of science is to create valuable information not to entertain. Entertainment is a device TED talkers and bloggers use to get their research across. One should not aim for a news headline just to get a news headline. For the most part, this tendency must be resisted for the health of science and arguably for the health of your career.

When science is entertaining it should follow the Ig Nobel standard of “research that makes people laugh and then think.” If the think does not come, then the science fails. The news media and YouTube love headlines that make people laugh and it is so tempting to try to make the public laugh and impress them. Many of us are nerds who never were popular and cool, and being popular and cool for just one moment is a huge temptation. Resist that temptation.

Danger #3:  TED is Only Chapter 1

TED talks are only the intro, TED encourages viewers to go deeper.

TED talks are only the intro, TED encourages viewers to go deeper.

TED talks always feel like the first chapter of a book. However, good science is not completed by writing just one chapter. And just as there is danger in only reading in the first chapter of Blink, there is a danger of doing chapter 1-thin research.

Some have argued that TED needs to be better at delving deeper into the topics. Regardless of whether TED internally acts correctly or not, TED does not provide the right template for how to do research. A scientist does not benefit science by just skimming the edges of a topic with a single empirical phenomenon. One benefits science by digging a deep hole or at least digging repeatedly roughly around the same hole.

Next week: the brighter side of being raised on TED!

Research Heroes: Max Bazerman

Bazerman_25aThis week’s Research Hero is Prof. Max Bazerman, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He is also affiliated with Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the Psychology Department, and the Program on Negotiation. Prof Bazerman’s research focuses on but is not limited to decision making, ethics, and negotiation. He has coedited more than 200 articles and 16 books, including Negotiation Genius, Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming, and How to Prevent Them, and the sixth edition of Judgment in Managerial Decision Making. He has international collaborations with over 25 countries and 50 companies in United States. Prof. Bazerman is also famous for being the one who introduced the science of negotiation in Business schools. He has received many awards, to name a few recent ones: honorary doctorate from the University of London (London Business School), being named as one of Ethisphere’s 100 Most Influential in Business Ethics, one of Daily Kos’ Heroes from the Bush Era for going public about how the Bush Administration corrupted the RICO Tobacco trial, and the 2008 Distinguished Educator Award from the Academy of Management.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career…

a) All good papers find homes

b) If the reviewer is being “stupid”, it is probably your writing that allows them to be “stupid”.  The solutions isn’t hoping for smart reviewers, but taking the perspective of the reviewer, and writing so that they see the brilliance in your work.  (and, if you don’t have those writing skills, find an editor)

I most admire academically… because…


a) Kahneman and Tversky, for outlining the most influential research direction in the social sciences

b) Thaler and Sunstein, for nudging us to how to put this brilliance into practice to make the world a better place

The best research project I have worked on during my career...the project that I am most proud of/ that has inspired me most….
The next project, which I do not even know about as I write this, that one of my brilliant doctoral students lures me into joining.

The worst research project I have worked on during my career…the one project that I should never had done…
My empirical work has co-authors, so I am going to refuse to answer this one.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research….The common occurrence of a brilliant doctoral student coming into my office to inform me about how wrong I am – again!

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance…
I have told all my stories worth telling

A research project I wish I had done… And why did I not do it…Kern, M. and Chugh, D. (2009).  Bounded ethicality: The perils of loss framing.  Psychological Science, 20(3), 378-384. The paper is brilliant, simple, and important.  And, it is about things I know about.  I can’t figure out why I didn’t do this before Kern and Chugh.  I love this paper!

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be...less happy.

The biggest challenge for our field in the next 10 years…Changing our methods to cope with the insightful and important work of John, Leslie K., George Loewenstein, and Drazen Prelec. Measuring the Prevalence of Questionable Research Practices with Incentives for Truth-telling. Psychological Science (2012). Simmons, Joseph P.,  Leif D. Nelson and Uri Simonsohn.  False-Positive Psychology : Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting. Psychological Science (2011). My generation messed up, and led to the acceptance of bad practices with too many cute false positives.  We need to clean up our act, and the faster the better.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is… Don’t p-hack (see Simmons et al., 2011).  The world is changing, detecting p-hacking is easy, and the value on integrity in research is going up very quickly.

Prof. Bazerman’s Wikipedia page

In The Wild: Leigh Caldwell

Chicago headshot 1This week in our practitioner series we’re featuring Leigh Caldwell who is a behavioural economist and founding partner of pricing research consultancy Irrational Agency. He’s been applying decision making research commercially since the mid-2000s, making him quite an early adopter of this discipline, and is also active in academic economic research, working in the emerging field of cognitive economics. He has founded and run several businesses in technology and professional services, and recently condensed his experience in pricing and marketing these businesses into a new book The Psychology of Price. He is also the sub-editor for our upcoming interview series on applications of decision-making psychology in economics and public policy.

Tell me about your work: how does decision making psychology fit in it? I see my work as scaling up. I start from decision-making research that applies to individuals, and expand it into an understanding of how groups of people, companies or markets or whole economies, operate.

As a consultant, I do this for companies who want to know how to design a pricing or marketing strategy while taking into account consumer psychology. As a researcher, I do it with economic theory, building models of how markets work and how economies experience growth or recessions.

To do either of these jobs calls for mathematical models – models of how people behave which strike the balance between being psychologically realistic, but simple enough to work with. Old style economics went too far down the simplification route; but modern empirical psychology doesn’t produce simple models. So my work involves figuring out just how much simplification is enough, then doing the mathematics to expand it to an economic scale.

This field as a whole is called cognitive economics. Its goal is to build models of the economy that are based on a realistic foundation of how people really make decisions, and to bring an understanding of positive psychology into economic modelling – how people get utility or happiness from non-material goods, by modifying their cognitive state. It tackles questions like: what determines whether a company invents a new product or competes in an existing category? Why do companies make profits when economics says all profit should be competed away? Why are people unemployed? Why do people invest and save and borrow in the way they do? When people can get psychological benefit from intangible things, why do they still rely so much on material possessions? These are all really important questions which traditional economics can’t answer. Cognitive economics uses the discoveries of decision-making psychology to figure out why these things happen.

How did you first become interested in decision making psychology? I was running a business, a software company, and had been trying to work out for years how much money I should charge for our products. I could tell that my customers weren’t making decisions through rational cost-benefit analysis, so I wanted to know what else was going on. The same pattern showed up when we built software – whenever people started using it, they insisted on ignoring the “correct” processes and used it in whatever way they felt like. The Sheldon Cooper in me was frustrated by all this irrationality. I had to figure out what was going on!

I had read lots of marketing books with some foundations in folk psychology – anything from Dale Carnegie to Ries & Trout – but none of them seemed very scientific. As a mathematician and programmer with an economics background, my natural approach was to try to build a predictive model of people’s behaviour and figure out what was going on. When I started looking into the psychology research, I found out that there were plenty of researchers examining the same kinds of problems…but no coherent structure for how to apply the discoveries either to economics or business. That was where I discovered my niche. I decided to start applying this science, first in my software business and eventually set up a new business selling pricing advice. Having got involved along the way in academic research in order to find these answers, it seemed natural to keep working both on new research and on business applications.

What type of research do you find most interesting, useful or exciting? Like everyone, I’m entertained by the range of provocative topics people study in this discipline: the psychology of online dating, whether people called Michel are more likely to buy Michelin stock, or how easily people can be manipulated into saying the opposite of what they apparently believe – there’s always something fun.

But I’m always more interested in foundational work. This field is full of ad hoc papers, with lots of experiments focusing on individual standalone phenomena. Those are all fine in their own right, but they are hard to apply to real world problems. You need to do a new experiment every time you want to investigate anything. Theoretical work that unifies a spectrum of different results into a smaller set of principles makes it easier to solve new problems. That kind of work is what really fascinates me.

Do you see any challenges to the wider adoption of decision making psychology in your field? There’s resistance from the economics side of the discipline – many economists insist that people are fundamentally rational, even if they make occasional mistakes in their decisions. Their idea is that all the mistakes basically cancel out, or disappear once consumers learn to overcome them. That is part of why I want to turn all the disparate effects in this field into a unified theory: to find out whether our general cognitive limitations have an impact on the efficiency of markets or on whether societies end up rich or poor.

From the business side, the issue isn’t any direct resistance, just a lack of rigour and knowledge. Businesses are often run on superstition more than on evidence. The barrier here is inertia: a concerted effort will be needed to persuade companies and governments to take up these ideas. Fortunately, capitalism provides an incentive to make that effort – there are big rewards awaiting the agencies or consultancies who can win that role as a bridge from science to business.

How do you see the relationship between academic researchers and practitioners? Tenuous.

Two other interviewees in this series responded to this question with the word “symbiotic”. That’s true, but it’s also idealised. In reality, the culture – or to be technical, the habitus – of these two worlds are so different that it’s hard for them to work together. So far.

Academics mostly agree that it’s a good thing to make their work relevant for business or public policy applications, but many of them don’t have a clear idea of how to do that. (Business schools are a major exception – I’ve been impressed by the decision-making research conducted in the top business schools.) However, academics who are hired as consultants often struggle to make their work have an impact. Consultancy needs to be followed up by strong and simplified implementation steps in order to work, and academics rarely enjoy distilling their work in that way. Then again, that’s true of most commercial consultancy too.

Businesspeople are more skeptical of the potential for collaboration. No pharmaceutical company would deny the importance of rigorous biochemical science in creating their products, but it wouldn’t occur to most of them that decision-making science is relevant to their marketing and pricing too. I don’t think this means they’re anti-academic or anti-science, just that they don’t understand it and so it is easier for them to rely on gut feeling and intuitive judgment in this area. Quite a lot of my commercial work ends up being about translating scientific concepts into business language, and then demonstrating why business should be more open to using scientific methods and knowledge.

Mostly, the interface between the two worlds is limited to popular science books, a few intrepid people from marketing agencies who visit academic conferences, and the occasional consulting contract for a professor somewhere. I would love to be part of changing this. Right now we have two separate worlds and a few people who occasionally cross the border between them.

Imagine we could create a continuous spectrum instead: at one end theoretical academic research on mathematics or abstract models, then empirical research testing hypotheses, then an “engineering” discipline who knows the science and also how to implement it in business, through to marketing departments who use what the engineers have developed, all the way to operations or finance departments who could become aware of how to incorporate consumer psychology in the service they deliver and the way they bill for it. That would transform the practice of both business and academia.

How do we get there? Maybe we all need to apply some decision making psychology to understanding our own barriers and how to change our own behaviour.

What advice would you give to young researchers who might be interested in a career in your field? The areas I work in get their richness and value from the interplay of three disciplines: marketing, empirical psychology and economics. Researchers who are interested in pricing and other business applications will want to understand how people work in business as well as the scientific process of psychology and the modelling and mathematics that comes into economics.

For example, if you’re an economist and haven’t done empirical psychology work before, try getting involved in some pricing experiments at a business school so you can see how that works. If you’re a psychology researcher who hasn’t worked in a company, try working with a small business to try to redesign the pricing of their products or services. To get a feel for practical applications in pricing, you might also want to take a look at Priceless by William Poundstone (or my book). And if you’re a practitioner who wants to bring more science into your work, go along to some academic conferences or seminars just to get a feel for how people work.

Sometimes people are worried that they won’t understand the science (or the economics) or the maths will be too difficult. Try it anyway and just understand as much as you can. People in other fields aren’t any cleverer, they just speak a different language – the people who work in that field learned it, and you could learn it too if you wanted to.

Practical applications aside, if you’re interested in cognitive economics research, you will have to have an independent spirit. There are not many people working in the field yet, so you probably won’t find a supervisor who specialises in it. You can get in touch with me and I can help you identify a list of papers to start with, and then see what kind of research question you’re interested in. I think cognitive economics will be an increasingly important field and this is a good time to get into it; but it is always more challenging to work in an emerging field because the directions of research and the conventions aren’t clear yet.

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