CX pros: Select behavioural scientists carefully!
The barriers to entry for being employed or recognized as a thought leader in behavioral science are very low, so low that even an elephant could nimbly sail over the hurdle. And, famously, elephants can't jump. CX and related fields are currently being invaded by a wide range of folk - all of whom claim to be "Behavioral Scientists". But how can the well-intentioned CX Professional discriminate between the bloggers and those offering real value? This article is intended to provide some helpful hints and tips. Please do feel free to drop me a one if I can assist further.
Let's be totally honest - most "behavioral scientists" are nothing of the sort. A director of behavioral science with an undergrad degree in psychology (or even any degree in psychology), qualifications in fine or liberal arts or a certificate achieved online are of approximately zero value in general. The mechanical or software engineer who instead of dominating her or his field has entered that of brains rather than bytes and boxes is no specialist in human performance. Elephants, and other non-jump enabled mammals, have other complexities and superpowers: like the engineers, artists, psychologists, marketeers and others, they should stick with what they know and can do best. Individual psychologists, say, who have demonstrated real value (i.e. not just applying a behavioral model from Nobel Prize winning folk such as Kahneman and Tversky; Ariely or the latest publication from the UK-based Behavioural Insight Team) are worth having consult or work with you. The rest, not so much. In fact, they could be downright dangerous at worst.
Put it another way, would you rate me (an anthropologist and extensively experienced applied behavioral scientist) as someone who could effectively code in Python, run Salesforce or operate Ruby on Rails? Nope. And quite rightly so. A psychologist could be experienced in surveying students to see which of ten thousand images they find most attractive or expert in exploring how a kettle should be most ergonomically designed. But they will never be best placed, shall we say, to opine on helping better anticipate customer behavior, capture the emotional status of employees, add value to the training of elite military teams or build the rapid information synthesis and problem-solving skills of the c-suites in industry, central banks, intelligence agencies and others.
Why is the epidemic of "behavioral scientists" so dangerous? Well, mainly because they are creating understandings of challenges and opportunities by applying only templates, models and theories that they have had drilled into them in their academic training, online certificates or self-directed learning. They have often misunderstood these templates, models and theories. They frequently have no idea as to the assumptions, caveats, cautions and rigors that need to accompany the use of these.
Authentic behavioral scientists can create our own tooling - indeed, that's what our academic training and applied work has helped hone. We have the competence, confidence and to invent bespoke 'best of breed' approaches which combine elements from various sources to deliver unique value to the client. You employ an engineer to leverage their portfolio of skills + their individual strengths and expertise + experience in the real world to produce the best code, bridge, nuclear power plant ....... you don't select someone who can just mindlessly employs processes with a 'one size fits all' ethos.
If you're considering employing a behavioral scientist - don't ask them what framework they would apply to shed light on a problem. Literally anyone could do that with half a day's research on Google. Ask them to give an example of how they have created a concept to better understand a challenge or undertaken discovery with an end user with a seemingly intractable problem and then developed a valuable solution. No-one asks a carpenter what their favorite tool is: instead we look at pictures of their mastery and ratings on Trustpilot .... or from the local community.
To add a bit of personal flavor to the article, here are some examples of how I leverage my behavioral science to assist individuals, customers and brands. But first, a quick biographical note. Graduating with an MA and PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of St Andrews, I began my applied career with the UK Ministry of Defence's research laboratory. Initially developing new ways to identify, counter and respond to information, asymmetric and hybrid warfare - my work helped to enhance the decision-making power and reliability of deployed forces, doctrine to train future warfighters and ensure that the strategic heart of government could take the decisions it needed under unprecedented pressures. I continue today to undertake consultancy with elite military formations as well as a range of other prestigious individuals and organizations.
My ethos is all about helping everyone that I work with to develop their individual, team, corporate or national competitive advantage. To do this, I have my own competitive advantage: rare and sometimes unique skills in being able to empathize with a client's challenges and develop mutually ambitious ways of engaging with realities to enable the achievement of strategic outcomes. Time for some current examples ....
- Behavioral Science and Higher Education - as the proud ambassador for a pathway to a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) to serving and veteran members of the UK Armed Forces (inc spouses and friends), my job is to build the confidence and study skills capability of individuals who are peerless professionals in their military or civilian world. There is so much fear around concerning academic study, referencing, research, literature reviews, essay and dissertation-writing ..... and through my deep empathy for this and belief in the latent intelligence and ability of my learners, they are transformed into active, efficient, happy (usually!) students who massively outperform civilians in their grades, go on to transition to very impressive careers outside defense and increasingly continue to study for PhDs! Competitive advantage: for me versus my colleagues and competitors, most importantly for my learning customers and those that employ them.
- Healthcare - outside of my day job in education, I'm Chief Behavioral Officer with EczemaDoc. Here, I'm developing a communications, education and behavioral science engine to help sufferers of this complex and under-treated condition regain control of their lives from eczema's grip. I'm helping re-frame eczema and from this totally new way of making sense of its triggers, mechanisms and the sufferer's underlying pathology - our app (currently being tested at MVP stage) and a community of empowered users will begin to overcome the limitations the condition causes. Competitive advantage - for our team of clinicians and patients.
- Customer Experience - another amazing team I'm involved with is that of Anthrolytics. We have developed and applied an integrated technological and consultancy offer that provides companies with unparalleled Digital Empathy(TM). We capture the emotional state of customers so that a company can choose what its next best action is. We consult to help brands understand how to create enduring and high ROI Moments That Matter(TM). Disrupting customer experience (CX) and leading the charge in #digitalempathy - we have invented our own competitive advantage which enables us to assist organisations themselves have competitive advantage in customer care.
- Entrepreneurship - working with the StartrHub, I apply another angle to education and confidence-building by delivering self-belief, knowledge and skills to enable those from underestimated and historically disadvantaged individuals to become entrepreneurs. We help nurture great business ideas that transform the hopes of those who perhaps had never even considered that they could become the best in their industry in their street, town, region, country ..... or beyond. Competitive advantage for these people to become sustainable, achieving, employing and tax-paying success stories!
Finally .... avoid the bogus and the hocus-pocus
These are just a few proofs of value. The 'secret sauce' for each is different, but is derived from the same source of my behavioral science expertise as the first practitioner in the UK government and c-suites. Just as you wouldn't expect the inventor of an algorithm to disclose it, I won't detail how I specifically create the secret sauce: but the results speak for themselves as to its power. Having been tested in demanding civilian, defense and commercial environments against very challenging briefs - my IP is deep, rich and always evolving.
I have helped out-think adversaries, top-3 strategy houses, conventional wisdom and much more besides. Commissioned directly by those who have incredible powers to sniff out the bogus and the hocus-pocus, you can be confident that I am the real deal when it comes to behavioral science. Others have done comparable work - hopefully you the reader will now be able to ask tougher questions of those you employ or contract to help you achieve competitive advantage that counts.
I also have a short(ish) video on YouTube which expands on these points!