Event: The Weird and Wonderful World of Behavioural Economics, Anthony Tasgal

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We all know behavioural economics is a big issue for our industry. What I know after attending Tuesday’s MRS event is that it is also far too complex a topic to cover in an hour’s session. You could have the oratory skills of Barack Obama, the wit of Oscar Wilde and have Kahneman there field questions, and you’d still only be able to achieve so much.

As a task, it’s like teaching French in a lunchbreak. Not. Going. To. Happen.

Anthony Tasgal was aiming to do the impossible and summarise the lessons of behavioural economics, the industry’s reluctance to accept its lessons and how we can apply it in our daily practice in 60 minutes. And he did a great job, spoke eloquently in an hour full of interesting quotes and rhetorical flourishes. Here’s 5 takeaways.


1)      The rational is the alibi of desire

Or if you prefer the original French quote from a client at Peugeot “Le rationnel est l’alibi du desir”.

BE has shown that the vast majority of decision making relies on our autopilot.

But it doesn’t feel that way to me or you right now. Our lived experience is ours: by definition it is unique and valuable. When you’re taken through the bat and ball test (“A Simple Logic Question That Most Harvard Students Get Wrong”) or an optical illusion where you see what you expect to see or even the trolley cart problem for the first time - it’s jarring. You question yourself. 

We don’t think the way we think we think.

The upshot? Don’t spend time re-learning BE’s lessons every time. Move to solution mode. 


2)      The industry needs to get over its vested interests

Once you accept the majority of human decision making is autopilot driven you need to act.

Tasgal characterised the industry as suffering from confirmation bias. Change can mean admitting error. It’s easier to ignore. There are lots of vested interests in continuing existing branded methodologies and ask-answer research solutions.

The upshot? The industry is somewhere between stages 2 and 3 of of JS Haldane’s four stages of acceptance:

1. This is worthless nonsense.

2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view.

3. This is true, but quite unimportant.

4. I always said so.  


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3)      Emotion creates memory

Emotion creates memory and therefore action.

Even disgust: take a look at this ad for Thai hand sanitizer brand Sanzer. Makes you think differently about touching a pubic telephone.  

Forget messaging, rational persuasion and information.

BE can liberate you creatively: embrace the instinctive, stop being hemmed in by rational strategies. Or as Tasgal put it “Massage don’t message.” It’s a busy, noisy world, and the noise to signal ratio is increasing daily. Our brains are “ignoring machines” so work with what is going to cut through. 

The upshot? We can change behaviour without changing minds.


4)      We don’t retrieve, we reweave

Memory is fallible. Remembering is to some extent an act of imagination.

Driving home after the event, I happened upon Professor Coral Dando describing new research showing that social pressures within interviews impact on our ability to recall events in the past.   

Add to this our self-esteem: the role of the self is to integrate stories about ourselves into a coherent narrative. Facts are less important than how we feel about ourselves, our lives.

A great question Tasgal asked was: Do we need others to see us for ourselves?”

The upshot? For me this is about moving beyond ask answer research, using intelligent triangulation and measuring real behaviour. Ethnography. Observation. Biometrics. EEG.


5)      GUTS and TOEs are inappropriate

Grand unified theories and theories of everything are a Sisyphean waste of time. The world is too complex.

The upshot? Test, learn and iterate. 


Thanks to the MRS & Joint the Dots for organising.


Simon Shaw, Director

Katie Grundy