November 28, 2018

Re-Grooving on Annie Duke

This is a special Re-Grooving session for your speedy listening enjoyment. In this re-grooving episode, we are re-sharing the Grooving Session (only the Grooving Session) that followed Kurt’s and my conversation with Annie Duke, author and poker champion extraordinaire. That means that in this episode, you won’t hear the conversation with Annie. To hear that, you need to check out our podcast called “Leaving the Matrix.” There you can enjoy all of Annie’s insights and enthusiasm first hand.

This episode is just the Grooving Session after we spoke with Annie. It’s about 30 minutes long and includes comments Kurt and I made about Annie, as well as our observations on tribes, loss aversion, goal setting, accountability coaches, nudge-fest, Lila Gleitman’s contribution the English dictionary, listening to (or not listening) to music while we’re doing other tasks and Alex Chilton’s impact on musical literature.

Also, Kurt and I wanted to let you know that we have instituted the thinking-in-probabilities approach in our conversations with each other and with our respective clients. We encourage you to give it a try.

And speaking of probabilities, we believe that you are at least 87% likely to jump onto your favorite podcatcher and give Behavioral Grooves a positive review! Thanks in advance for your support.

Check out for more information on meetups and podcasts. 

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence People, LLC, and one of only 20 Cialdini Method Certified Trainers in the world. Brian’s experience with Robert Cialdini’s methods places him among the most experienced practitioners alive. It was a pleasure to speak with Brian and to gain some insight on applying the methods of ethical influence that Cialdini pioneered in his book, Influence with clients in the real world.  

We hosted Brian in the Behavioral Grooves studio for our wide-ranging and in-depth conversation. It was a treat because we typically have our discussions via the web on Zoom or SquadCast, but Brian was able to meet us at the dining room table and it was terrific. As a result of being in the same room and sitting around the same table, our discussion on priming, influence and ethics was particularly personal and dynamic.

Brian began our conversation by outlining the six principles of influence: liking, reciprocity, authority, social proof or consensus, consistency, and scarcity, all of which were identified by Robert Cialdini in his first book.  We wandered into a great story about Cialdini’s very humble personality, that Brian conveyed by way of a dinner meeting with the professor. (Note: Kurt and Tim experienced Cialdini’s humility directly when we met up with the good professor in New York City, recently. Bob, as he urged us to call him, was as curious as a college freshman and solicited our thoughts on every topic we spoke about. Truly an inspiring and amazing guy.)

Brian shared his thoughts about Tom Hopkins work on “How to Master the Art of Selling” and the impact that the spoken word has on our beliefs. The ‘what I say becomes what I believe’ was an important reminder that words matter. And in Brian’s case, words are just about everything when it comes to the world of ethical influence. This became clear when he spoke about how he trains insurance salespeople to use primes with their customers when pitching technology. The technology actually helps keep the drivers safer and provides more reliable data to the insurance agencies. Brian trains the agents to say, “…this technology works really well for good drivers like you.” We’re all for being safer on the road. 

Of course, we spent a fair amount of our conversation on the subtlety and power of primes. Fortunately, Brian took our musical bait and spoke to how he uses musical playlists to create and deliver his own personal primes. We were happy to hear that he’s created playlists that focus on titles or themes with the words ‘moment’ or ‘time’ in them. And it’s evidence that he takes his own medicine when it comes to the advice he shares with his clients. He’s using music to prime himself and others before meetings! We are always impressed with people, like many of our other guests, who apply these principles to their own lives. 

The priming discussion included a great story about how he used reciprocity to engage his daughter in doing some extra chores around the house. Rather than making his request quid pro quo, Brian decided to preempt the request with a raise to her allowance. After the new, upgraded allowance was in place, Brian’s request was met with immediate support. Kurt and Tim have recollections of childhood chores compressed with bad feelings – and they linger long into adulthood. As children, we never experienced enthusiasm over chores or things we were asked to do, in part because of the ways those requests were made.

Brian concluded our conversation with three tips about the most impactful tools from the principles of persuasion. They are:

  1. Liking. The focus with liking needs to be on ME figuring out how to like YOU, not the other way around. The search for commonalities and the need to deliver compliments are on ME, not you.
  2. Authority. While authority has many meanings, a core part of this principle is in being an authority on what you do. Be willing to share advice. Be a giver. Be an authority, don’t just walk through your job with your eyes half closed.
  3. Consistency. The biggest part of consistency is, of course, being consistent in your words and deeds. However, beneath the headline is the very powerful subtext of asking, not telling. Be strategic. Be inquisitive. And live up to the words you speak.

Our discussion with Brian gave us the opportunity to talk about both Coldplay and Frank Sinatra. With a playlist that wildly varied from a guy from Ohio, what is there not to like? And since Brian is from Ohio, the home of the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, we decided to do a little grooving on it. So, Kurt and Tim discussed Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame inductees and who, in our humble opinion, deserves to be nominated. Todd Rundgren was discussed as one of our nominees we'd like to see in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. (We also discussed Queen, but Queen was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001, ten years after Freddie Mercury died.) The impact that music has on our lives is nearly immeasurable and we’re grateful to have the opportunity to listen to it, enjoy it, and chat about it.

Tee up a lively tune before you listen to this episode! We hope you enjoy our conversation with Brian Ahearn.

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University of Chicago MBA professor Linnea Gandhi talked with Kurt and Tim recently about her consulting work, her passion for statistics, grading papers and how a good improvisational theatre production can be sheer joy. Self-descriptions of her own achievements are blanketed with modesty; however, her passions shine through when discussing her work, both past and present.

Linnea is a remarkable person. After completing her undergraduate at Harvard and an MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School, she worked with the Boston Consulting Group, then with ideas42. And since last year, she’s operated her own consultancy based on the application of behavioral sciences while teaching MBA students at the University of Chicago. Her consultancy, BehavioralSight, takes clients beyond simple biases and into the methodologies of scientific measurement that are critical to professional and personal decision-making.

When we caught up with Linnea, she was busy preparing a presentation for a conference she was invited to speak at and, simultaneously, was deep into reading a book on statistics.  Statistics became central to our conversation and she even admitted to having a CRUSH on statistics! She sees a need to understand how we calculate decision probabilities and believes the world could be a better place with better application of statistical tools.  

In addition to her extensive work as consultant and teacher, she is one of the very special fraternity of people who have co-authored a paper with Nobel Laureate, Danny Kahneman. The paper, coauthored with Kahneman, Andrew Rosenfield and Tom Blaser, is called “Noise: How to Overcome the High, Hidden Cost of Inconsistent Decision Making.” Published in the October 2016 Harvard Business Review, the article shares the important lesson of how to differentiate biases from noise – you know, that thing we often refer to as chance variability. The authors write: “We call the chance variability of judgments noise. It is an invisible tax on the bottom line of many companies.”  Kurt and Tim found that tremendously insightful.

On the topic of excellent articles, Linnea’s piece on the People Science site, “Testing, Testing: Not All Failures Are Created Equal,” hit home with us, too. Her chart featuring the taxonomy of failure breaks down the need to focus on process failures, rather than outcome failures, which led us to discuss thinking in probabilities, a favorite topic of Annie Duke.

We also talked about how people are particularly challenged when it comes to grasping uncertainty and developing concrete probabilities around difficult-to-identify risks. Quite frequently, Linnea puts these ideas to work in her consulting business. Clients often overreact to the freshest data or recent market changes, and she helps guide their way through the decisions that can be improved by relying on a broader data set.

Stumbling on Kurt Lewin was a stroke of luck. If you’re not familiar, Lewin was a prolific creator of psychological observations and theories. His work is wide-ranging and our own Kurt Nelson, PhD has been a fan of Lewin’s for some time. Noteworthy is Lewin’s Equation, or so it is often called, that simplifies human behavior with a direct and unpretentious approach: behavior is a function of the person in their environment. When Linnea brought up Lewin, it was clear Kurt was loving the conversation.

We discovered that Linnea’s connection to music is through movement – like dance and improvisational theatre – and leaves the singing up to people with better vocal cords. However, she’s a fan of Billy Joel and shared her fondness for “For the Longest Time,” which led Kurt and Tim to discuss our own favorite Billy Joel songs.

We ended our conversation with Linnea with three succinct tips for those interested in improving their decision making.

  1. Look for disconfirming data.
  2. If you don’t write it down, it doesn’t exist. (Stolen from Linda Ginzel, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School and author of “Choosing Leadership.”)
  3. Take a course in statistics!

With that, we’ll end our comments with a quotation from the great Edwards Deming that reminds us to remain diligent in designing and implementing processes in our work and personal lives: “Every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it gets.”


Political discussions in many places around the world have become more contentious than at any time in our recent history. It seems almost impossible to have a calm conversation with someone who doesn’t hold our own political views. In North America and Liberia, we’re approaching the Thanksgiving 2018 holiday where families have a tradition of coming together to show gratitude for a successful harvest. In many of these settings, the dinner-table conversation with be with people we don’t agree with.

In this episode, Kurt and Tim share 5 tips on how to maintain civil discourse at the dining table during these family gatherings. As we all know, families aren’t homogeneous groups of automatons – in the United States or anywhere else. People choose different paths for their political or religious beliefs and “what I believe” can be difficult for those who don’t share those beliefs.

At the heart of these conflicts is that we are all different and different is good. To maintain a successful civilization, we need both conservative and liberal perspectives. Without a conservative perspective, we might fail to honor long-standing institutions. Without a liberal perspective, we might fail to move past our comfort zones. We need both, so we start by recognizing that.

Our list begins with being curious and we refer to the person we disagree with as “the crazy uncle,” with no disrespect for uncles or mental illness. When this uncle makes a statement you don’t agree with, don’t zing back a rebuttal…just ask him about his comment. How did he come to this perspective? What makes him believe this is the case? To what degree is he certain of this?

We reference an excellent article in Psychology Today by Robert Mauer on the topic of curiosity. Mauer urges readers to frame questions with high integrity and pure wonder. When you’re in that space, you are more likely to engage in conversations with people you initially disagreed with.

The second tip is to focus on the topic, not the person. Never attack the person with your objections – focus on the issue at hand. It’s about the topic, not the person!  A critical error in any contentious conversation is the erosion of the dialogue away from the topic at hand. When emotions get the best of us, we can dog-pile our grievances onto the crazy uncle and lose sight of why we disagree in the first place. Don’t wander from the point either of you was trying to make.

The third tip is to argue the facts, not the perceptions. And when you don’t agree on facts, agree to move on to a topic that you DO agree on the facts. (That means you need to think about the FACTS, not just your opinion.) It’s more of a philosophical approach, but still important in keeping the discourse civil, it’s best if we can agree on certain facts, even when they don’t support our own position.

John Greco’s chapter called “Knowledge as Credit for True Belief” in the Clarendon Press book titled Intellectual Virtue: Perspectives From Ethics and Epistemology is a great example of how to focus on facts and not perceptions.

Another way to approach the potentially contentious discussion is to make an agreement up front with the other person to focus on facts. Annie Duke, in her book Thinking in Betsspeaks to the importance of agreeing on a set of “rules” and sticking to it. Set up an agreement prior to the discussion and hold yourself accountable.

Our fourth tip is also related to Annie Duke’s book, and that is to talk in percentages and avoid black-and-white statements. Use statements like, “I’m 75% confident that gun legislation could have a positive impact on mass shootings,” and avoid saying things like, “You’re an idiot for not supporting gun control!”

Annie’s book is the best reference for avoiding a black and white approach to topics, especially challenging ones, and gives readers a very powerful toolbox for working our way through difficult dialogues. Most importantly, she reminds us that we don’t know everything – we never have, and we never will. We can feel certain, but that doesn’t mean we are perfectly correct. Allow our conversation with the crazy uncle to rest in the space of, “We could be wrong, even a little bit.”

The fifth tip is to respect our differences. Political difference has roots that are deeper than where we grew up – scientists are discovering that there are biological differences between conservatives and liberals. From what we know, the brains of people who tend to be more progressive experience triggers differently from those who tend to be more conservative. For instance, loud noises tend to impact people who are more conservative with more fear or caution than those who tend to be more progressive. These are uncontrollable, reflexive responses and we’re not going to persuade anyone to change their DNA.

To expand on this topic, we refer you to two pieces of value. In a Scientific American article by Emily Laber-Warren, the author highlights key findings in recent years about how Conservatives are better organizers and cleaners while Liberals are more novelty-seeking.

And one of our favorite books, Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, is a reference volume on how to understand and work with the differences we have. Highly recommended.


BONUS TIP: What do you want to achieve in this conversation? If you’re approaching your dinner conversation with the intent to persuade others to your point of view, think again. How would you feel if you felt as though others at the dinner table were trying to persuade you to agree with their controversial ideas? 

We recommend you leverage the power of your curiosity to learn more about what your crazy uncle has going on in his cranium. You just might leave the dinner table a little more informed than when you arrived.

November 12, 2018

David Yokum: Science is Hard

David Yokum may not be a household name but that shouldn’t stop you from listening. If you’ve ever wondered about police officer body cameras and the effect they’re having on crime, policing and adjudication, we have David to thank for conducting the first major randomized study on the use of police officer body cameras.

We came to know his work by a stroke of good fortune. He and Tim met as guests of George Loewenstein at the 2016 inauguration of Carnegie Mellon University’s undergraduate degree in Behavioral Economics. It was clear from the first handshake that David is not just another guy who’s curious about behavioral sciences. Even though he’s earned a law degree and a PhD in psychology, he’s not just another science geek. He’s a doer.

When they were introduced, David was transitioning from the White House Social and Behavioral Science Team to be a founding member of The Lab @ DC, which resides in the Executive Office of the Mayor of the District of Columbia. Among their many accomplishments, David and his colleagues conducted the foundational study on the impact of police officer body cameras. They set out to understand how body cameras might influence the use of force, how the cameras might impact crime and how the cameras might impact the flow of cases through the courts. But they discovered much more.

They realized that the context in which the study was rolled out mattered a great deal. The District of Columbia is not a static laboratory – it’s a city with nearly 4,000 law enforcement officers that represent a spectrum of quality, ability and experience on the job. Police officer training, police force reform, the urban crime environment, the population of the city, the support from other governmental agencies…all of these create a context that impacted the study’s results.

David shared with us about how, at the launch of the study, the team considered how body cameras might create an effect to increase the perceived legitimacy of the police force. And in some cases that happened. They believed that pairing the body camera data with existing datasets would reveal great insights for potential changes to police work. However, even with the tremendous amount of adjudication data and the dreaded police reporting paperwork, known to every viewer of a television police drama, there were still surprises. They discovered that some of the correlations (and sometimes lack of correlations) on arrests and quality of adjudication simply weren’t what they expected. To some degree, they got a null result. On that level, David noted that the null effect was an important message that prompted deeper analysis.

We wandered into a great discussion about the pratfalls of researchers relying too much on data, especially when they lack the ‘feet on the street’ view that comes from actually being in the field. All of this was predicated on the Lab@DC’s study on the capital city’s rat problem. The study changed for the better when the research team was enlightened with insights from the animal vector team and rat biology specialists.

At this point in our discussion, David enthusiastically noted that you should never stop developing a study. A study needs to be open to new insights, new data points, new information and reflect the latest and best thinking of the team. A study isn’t a shiny, newly-minted penny…it’s a living, breathing thing. All this connected us with the fact that not all results from just any similar study will replicate in your situation. This led us to a note about David’s failed attempt to replicate Michael Hallsworth’s tax letter studies, which reinforced the need for regular and rigorous research from context to context.

We were pleased to be conducting our discussion with David from Brown University, where he very recently assumed a post as an adjunct professor and has been tasked with establishing and directing a new center that will support applied public policy research with state and local governments. There is so much more to come from David Yokum!

Of course, we ended our discussion on music and we laughed our way through comments about Eddie Vedder to South African pop artist Mathew Mole and into the lost art of making a mixtape. Today, music is curated digitally, created by computers observing our likes and dislikes. We don’t even need to select individual songs, just click a ‘create’ button. But in the days before digital music, mixtapes allowed listeners to enjoy their favorite album tracks in the order that they wanted to listen to them. They were used at parties or for private consumption. And, in some cases, mixtapes were created as love letters – providing that special someone with a curated musical story of how you felt about him or her.

As technology changes, the world changes with it. For better or for worse, our human brains are huffing to keep up with that changing world. Our biases appear to be stuck in the context of a world that existed not 4 years ago, but 40,000 years ago. As long as we have a gap between our brain’s ability to process the contemporary world, we need science to help us understand it. We need people like David Yokum to do the hard work of figuring out how to apply the behavioral sciences to government.

Yes, science is hard. And we have David Yokum to thank for contributing to a better understanding of how governmental policies can improve our daily lives.


PS: As of this writing, Behavioral Grooves is now listened to in more than 85 countries. We are pleased to have listeners around this wonderful world. Thank you all for sharing in our journey.

While Kurt and Tim were waiting for a podcast interviewee to log in recently, we decided to discuss the behavioral and psychological aspects of waiting. What do you do when you have unplanned time on your hands? Some people call it marginal time and others wasted time. But much of how we feel about slack in our schedule is dependent on how we frame it.

We reference Christopher Hsee's work on idleness to answer the question, "Why do we feel better taking back roads to avoid freeway traffic when we reach our destination at the same time?" Whether or not we know how long the wait is going to be didn't seem to make much difference to Kurt and Tim. We want to maximize its value in our lives. And although there is plenty of research on tolerable waiting times for different activities (longer for airport security lines, shorter for retail check-out lines, even shorter for web page refresh), we focused on what to do when the wait comes to us. 

We believe that being thoughtful about how the time gets used is the first and most important element to making the most of waiting. Using your deliberate (System 1) thinking to make a decision about how you're going to spend that time is the best thing you can do. Tim relates how he was stuck in the doctor's office recently and a person on the staff let him know the doctor was running "at least 20 minutes late." That was the trigger for the choice. What to do? Tim chose to meditate and was unsure how long the waiting went on because the meditation was so good. 

Koen Smets is not a household name, but it ought to be. Pronounced KEWN, our guest in this episode is Belgian by birth and has lived in the UK for more than 20 years.  He is a founding partner of CareIQ, a firm that offers innovative concepts for improving the healthcare market, but spends most of his time with Altered Chord, a behavioral sciences firm near and dear to his heart. And he is an avid writer on the topics related to applied behavioral science. Koen believes that human behavior is complex and simplified conclusions about why we do what we do are just plain lazy. We applaud his rigor!

It’s best to start learning about Koen from his own words: “A widespread misconception is that biases explain or even produce behavior. They don’t – they describe behavior…biases evolved with us, and for good reasons…”

Kurt and Tim came to follow Koen because of his provocative tweets and thoughtful writings about behavioral economics. His witty insights and unique perspective on the field bring a vital voice to how best to apply behavioral sciences to a variety of real-world situations. And for Koen, like us, it all starts with scientific study. 

So our conversation started with discussing an issue on the minds of those who follow the world of behavioral sciences today: the so-called replication crisis. We got into Koen’s thoughts on why it’s no crisis at all, even in light of John Bargh’s famous study on priming failing to replicate. Koen explained that researchers are stumbling into the vagaries of how the complexities of context influence the execution of studies.  In fact, he went on, the “replication crisis” really points to the need for organizations to test and identify the most successful practices for their own culture. Otherwise, beware of the consequences.

This led to a discussion about how the environment influences our decision making. We used the environment as a natural platform to discuss the actual differences, and similarities, between life in Europe and the US as well as the differences between behavioral economics and neoclassical economics. We discussed how the economics debate is a false dichotomy – or at least it should be – because decision making in the real world is complex. A decision will be influenced by our worldview, which is influenced by who we socialize with, which is influenced by where we work, which is influenced by our education, which is influenced by our family of origin, which is influenced by where we were born! Context contributes to a great deal of the way our decision making is manifest in the world. 

We brought up some of the papers Koen’s written such as “There's more to behavioral economics than biases” and one of our all-time favorites, “An accidental behavioral economist on holiday This last article shares insights on how taking a holiday in the same location every year allows the vacationer to notice changes more easily than if you lived there every day. Koen’s annual visit to a seaside resort reveals many examples of behavioral science. He points out what happens to surrounding businesses when a patisserie closes, how the cost of street parking in the downtown area affects traffic and shopping, and how reputation and risk (and their relative efficiencies and costs) go together in a small village by the sea. These examples are microcosmic examples of how our we behave in global markets.

Of course, we ended up with a conversation about music in which we talked about jazz and discussed the altered chord as a way to break up the predictable sounds of common tonality. Koen’s actively involved in music and revealed how music is a terrific metaphor for real life, especially in what he called “symphonic jazz.” In symphonic jazz, Koen describes how two disciplines collide to allow space for both a meaningful and agreed-upon direction with coordination of the various people who will do the work (the symphonic side). And it also fosters space for improvisation while the work is being done (the jazz side).

We even had the opportunity to integrate a brief discussion of religion, Richard Dawkins and the irreverent cartoon series South Park around the Atheist War storyline.  Definately one of the best podcasts we did in 2018!  

We hope you enjoy this as much as we did.

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