The Nate Andorsky Hypothesis: Understanding Human Behavior Will Improve Your Product Decisions

Nate Andorsky is an entrepreneur who uses behavioral science to build digital strategies and technology for today’s most innovative companies and nonprofits. He believes the key to unlocking the potential of technology lies within our understanding of the psychological factors that drive human decision-making. By combining scientific findings with outside-of-the-box thinking, he helps turn human understanding into business advantages. He’s the author of Decoding the Why: How Behavioral Science is Driving the Next Generation of Product Design.

This week on the Product Science Podcast, H2R Product Science Founder and CEO Holly Hester-Reilly sits down with Nate to discuss how we can apply behavioral science principles to product, and where there are some common misconceptions.

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Questions We Explore in This Episode

The Nate Andorsky Hypothesis: Understanding Human Behavior Will Improve Your Product DecisionsHow did getting fired lead Nate to found Creative Science? How did Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein change the direction of his business? How do they infuse behavioral science and behavioral economic concepts into product design?

What is the paradox of choice? How does having too many options cause users to do nothing? What products has Nate built that incorporates this concept? What does the insurance company Lemonade do to reduce fraudulent claims? Why do you need to understand what’s driving the behavior before building the product itself? How can this help you find a simpler solution to the problem you’re trying to solve?

Why is there a 15-year gap between behavioral science research and implementation? How do you talk about behavioral science with stakeholders? What is the key difference between using science for academia and using science to make business decisions? Why does Nate emphasize that Creative Science’s interventions are human specific, not industry specific?

What is social norm theory? How do you shift social norms to your advantage for user engagement? Why is gamification often a trap? What’s the difference between intrinsically motivated and extrinsically motivated actions? Why does gamification work best for extrinsically motivated, but relatively easy to do actions? What is dynamic game balancing or “rubber banding,” and why is Mario Kart a good example?

How does the identifiable victim effect apply to the COVID-19 situation? How do you change norms gradually or incrementally in order to make a successful transition (hopefully) back to normal? What can we learn from how people perceive risk during this pandemic? Why do people optimize for short-term outcomes, and how do we get them to think about the long term?

Quotes From This Episode

Giving users too many options can actually cause them to do nothing… When we're presented with too many choices, we go into this analysis paralysis and don't make a decision. Click To Tweet I think there's a temptation to replicate solutions. You've got to really understand first what is the behavior that you're trying to drive, not the solution you're trying to implement. Click To Tweet If you talk about the work you're doing in stories that will create a much more compelling narrative than throwing numbers and stats at individuals. Tapping into our emotional side, that's really what drives us to take action. Click To Tweet


Holly Hester-Reilly: Hi, and welcome to the Product Science Podcast, where we’re helping startups founders and products leaders build high growth products, teams, and companies through real conversations with people who’ve tried it and aren’t afraid to share lessons learned from their failures along the way. I’m your host Holly Hester-Reilley, founder and CEO of H2R Product Science.
Holly Hester-Reilly: This week on the product science podcast. I’m excited to share a conversation with Nate Andorsky. Nate is an entrepreneur who uses behavioral science to build digital strategies and technology for today’s most innovative companies and nonprofits. He believes the key to unlocking the potential of technology lies within our understanding of the psychological factors that drive human decision making. By combining scientific findings with outside of the box thinking, he helps turn human understanding into business advantages. Welcome Nate.
Nate Andorsky: Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here today.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah, me too. We’re going to have fun. So, I always like to start by asking people a little bit about who they are and how they got here. So, how did you get started? How did you get to where you are?
Nate Andorsky: Oh, wow. A long journey. So, I graduated from George Washington university in 2010 and I sold insurance for a little bit, but I’ve had an entrepreneurial background since I was very young. I had my first business in high school. I sold items for people on eBay and then took a commission to the sale price. So, I’ve had entrepreneurial tendencies, I would say from as young as I can remember. And in 2012, I joined the Startup America Partnership team, which was an organization to help build entrepreneurial communities throughout the U S. And then in 2013, I got a new job at another organization for a few months, and then I got fired. And that was when I started my current company, Creative Science and …
Holly Hester-Reilly: I am going to pause you there. You have to tell us the story. What was this job and how did you get fired?
Nate Andorsky: So the job was actually with Startup Weekend. They ran these, I don’t know if you’re familiar with them, 54 hour workshops basically of the course of the weekend, coming with an idea, launch a company. I was the regional operations manager managing the Northeast and it honestly just wasn’t a good fit. I think that the people that were there could sense that I wasn’t really into the role. And then also because of that, I just wasn’t really doing that great of a job. I don’t think I was doing a horrible job, but the company was also going through a transition at the time. So, I think it just wasn’t a right fit for the company or for me. And I still remember it vividly. I was sitting at my kitchen table in his townhouse that I live with four of my friends from college.
Nate Andorsky: And the townhouse was run down. The kitchen table was one that I had grown up on as a child and an invite popped up on my calendar from one of the VPs. And I thought to myself, “Oh, this is really interesting. I’m either going to be tasked to do something really, really important. This is really, really good news or it’s really, really bad news.” And sure enough, I got on the phone call and they informed me that my employment would start weekend was terminated effective immediately. And that was the beginning of Creative Science.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. From the ashes, good things come, right?
Nate Andorsky: Exactly.
Holly Hester-Reilly: How did you decide Creative Science was what you’re going to do next?
Nate Andorsky: Sure. So, we launched creative science in 2013 with two of my other former coworkers at another company. And we wanted to go out on our own and we launched originally as a web design development agency, just building mobile apps and websites. And about two or three years later, I actually had read a book called Nudge, which is one of the most popular books in relates to behavioral economics. And as I was reading through the book, I noticed that a lot of the concepts, at least on a high level, if you build products, you just know, right? Social norm theory, paradox of choice, make things really easy to use, et cetera. But what I noticed was there was a lot more going on underneath the surface in regards to behavioral economics. And I was like, “Oh, there must be individuals that are really integrated behavioral economics or behavioral science into product design.” And the more that I dug, the more that I found out there really wasn’t. And this is when the shift began within the company to really re focus the company to use behavioral science and infuse it into product design.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Awesome. So you mentioned a couple things there, like the paradox of choice and whatnot. Tell us more about those for listeners who are newer to the behavioral science aspect.
Nate Andorsky: Sure. So, paradox of choice is a study that was done and Barry Schwartz actually talks about this in his book, Paradox of Choice. It basically is the concept that … the idea is that as humans, we want choices, right? That’s what we think we want. But there was a study that was done. It was a jam study in the food store and they put out 26 different types of jams. And they noticed that when people walk by, the conversion, the purchase rate, it was only 6%. But when they reduced this to actually only six different types of jams, the purchase rate went up to over 30%. And it’s basically this study that basically talks about this idea is that us as users, as individuals think we want access to a lot of choices, but what actually happens when we’re presented with too many choices, too many options, we go into this analysis paralysis and don’t make a decision. This is something that’s very prominent in product design, right? Giving users too many options can actually cause them to do nothing.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah, absolutely. So have you worked that into your products along the way? And can you share with us a time when that was a really an impactful thing?
Nate Andorsky: Yeah, definitely. So, we like to really dig into the behavioral science behind product design and that where this all comes from is when we talk about building products, one of the things we talk about is a lot of organizations and companies will go out and they’ll do focus groups and interviews. And what’s fascinating about this is, it’s a really good place to start. To ask people what they want, but the reality of it is that 95% of our thoughts, emotions, and learnings happen on the subconscious level. So, much of what we tell people as to why we did something is a very small part of the picture. We’re not really consciously aware much of what drives our decision making. And that’s where behavioral science comes in so beautifully. And an example of this, I actually referenced this in my book, it’s not a client of ours, but I think it just outlines how behavioral science can be used in product design.
Nate Andorsky: There’s a company called Lemonade. They do home and renter’s insurance. And one of the things they want to do, is they want to reduce fraudulent claims and Dan Ariely who’s one of the well known behavioral economists is on their team. And typically what most people would do with these types of scenarios, I want to reduce fraudulent claims, well, what I need to do is I need to figure out how to make a really sophisticated claims process to detect fraudulent claims. But what Dan and his team said is, “Okay, well, let’s actually look on what’s going on in the behavioral layer.” And he said, “Okay, well, really what the issue here is it’s trust, right? It’s a broken system of trust. People are filing fraudulent claims because they’re not trustworthy. So the question then becomes not how do you reduce fraudulent claims, but how do you address a broken system of trust?”
Nate Andorsky: And they’ve done a number of really interesting things. So the first thing they do is when you sign up for the program, what you do is you select a charity that you want to support. The end of every month, they take in all of their premiums, they take a percentage of profit and then any excess cash, they’ll donate to a charity on your behalf. What this does though, interestingly enough is if you file a fraudulent claim, you’re no longer just stealing from the insurance company, but you’re also indirectly stealing from the charity. Furthermore, when you file the claim, they ask you to take a video of yourself filing the claim, rather than just submitting it in written form, because they know you’re less likely to lie on video than you are through an informant. This is just an example of how you can first and foremost, really understand what’s driving the behavior before you actually build and design the product itself.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. And I really like that example because something as simple as asking people to take a video of themselves, it’s probably not that complicated to build into the product. Probably people were thinking about doing deep machine learning algorithms and things like that. That would be even harder. And sometimes there’s something simple that affects people’s behavior.
Nate Andorsky: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. So, what was your journey like in trying to apply things from Nudge into product design? How did you first sell that as a service?
Nate Andorsky: Oh, I love this question. So, it’s been really interesting is that there’s a huge gap that exists between the academic side and the applied side. The academic research in regards to what drives human behavior proceeds implementation by about 15 years. And there’s a number of different reasons that this exists and it’s a really big challenge. And part of the reason is because behavioral nudges are very contextual, right? So, what will work may work in one study doesn’t mean you can just copy and paste into what you’re doing. It really takes a creative individual to understand not only the theory and the research, but be able to take that, think about it abstractly, connect different concepts together, and then integrate it into your product in a way that’s effective. But the biggest challenge that I have found with that is twofold. Number one is there’s a big translation issue, right?
Nate Andorsky: So, you’re talking to marketing, product designers that are looking at the product that typically don’t have a background in behavioral science. You’ve got to be able to talk about it in a very easy to digest way and be able to speak about it in the way that they can really understand is a huge challenge. And then number two is in academia, you’re typically starting with something you want to test, right? I want to test this paradox of choice. I’m going to come up with a bunch of different studies. The applied side is completely backwards, right? You’re starting with a problem. I’m seeing user churn. I don’t have great user retention numbers. And then you’ve got to back your way into the behavioral science. So, those are two of the big challenges that we’ve seen trying to actually implement behavioral science and the product design.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah, I like that you brought up what’s different about academia, behavioral science versus applied. I think listeners may know I went to engineering school and the big reason why I chose engineering school was because it was the school of engineering and applied science. And in all of the sales things, before you go to the school, they really hammer in like you’re going to apply the science to do things in the real world. And I was like, “Great. That’s what I want to do.” It turns out that when you’re doing that at the type of school I was doing it at, you can still find yourself in some heavily theoretical places.
Nate Andorsky: Sure. It’s true. And there’s a lot of conversations going on around this too. It’s like we want to be intentional and rigorous with the type of behavioral science that we integrate, but there’s also some stuff from academia that just doesn’t make sense to translate over to the applied side. So there’s also that balance, right? Because the goals are different, right? In academia, you want to get published for something novel new. On the applied side, you want to do one of two things, reduce costs or increase revenue, right?
Holly Hester-Reilly: Exactly. Yeah. So, one of my favorite things to say is obviously you and I both have science in the name of our companies, right? So, we obviously care about it a lot and believe in it. But I often tell people, the experiments that we’re running or the research that we’re doing for our business, we’re not trying to publish a journal article that will last, stand the test of time. We’re just trying to make a good business decision and the bar is different. So I think I’m curious, have you faced skepticism with … knowing about these differences, have you faced people who were like, “Well, how does that matter here? Shouldn’t we just follow this design pattern that’s so and so company does?”
Nate Andorsky: Yeah. It’s definitely a challenge we often get from potential clients. Can you show me a specific case study that you’ve done that is exactly like the challenge that I have, right? And the fact of the matter is, is that every challenge is different and I always like to say that our interventions are human specific, not industry specific because of the core about how we make decisions. So, there’s that challenge. And this is, I think a bias that everybody has. It’s Like, I want certainty that you can solve my problem. If you solved it before, then I know that you can solve it again. So that’s definitely a challenge that we’ve seen from that side.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Cool. But how have you gotten past that challenge?
Nate Andorsky: One of the things that we do is we always start with what their goals are. Let’s start there because that’s your North star. At the end of the day, I don’t say you don’t care, you care about your goals. You don’t really care about how we get there. And then what we start to do is we start to educate the client in regards to what behavioral science is, how it’s different than just normal UX design, how it fits together with UX design, and then start to show them the theories that we’re using to dissect what’s driving behavior, and then show them the theories that we’re using to help offset those behaviors. That’s when they begin to understand and really see how what we do is actually different.
Holly Hester-Reilly: That’s great. Who are some of the other people you’ve come across as you’ve been working on the application of behavioral science in product design?
Nate Andorsky: So, products design is specifically is a little bit, few and far between. Dan Ariely is probably the most well known individual in this space. BJ Fogg does a lot of work here too. Dan has slapped down at Duke the center for advanced hindsight. Rory Sutherland, he’s hilarious and he’s brilliant. He’s great. He’s with Ogilvy and he’s more on the marketing side and the product design side, but those are some of the names that are more prominent in this space.
Holly Hester-Reilly: And what are some of the key lessons you’ve learned from some of the others in this space that you think are worth sharing?
Nate Andorsky: So, first and foremost is I think there’s a temptation to replicate solutions, right? So let’s say you have a fitness app, right? And you’re trying to get people to work out more. Well, let’s just gamify it, right? There’s this gamification thing that worked on this other app. Why don’t we just copy and paste that? You’ve got to really understand first and foremost, what is the behavior that you’re trying to drive, not the solution you’re trying to implement. And then you want to start there and then work your way from there to then come up with a solution. That’s one of the things that I’ve seen the most.
Holly Hester-Reilly: So, when you go back to some of the things you said earlier, I believe you said something about social norm. Was that right?
Nate Andorsky: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Holly Hester-Reilly: Tell us more about that one.
Nate Andorsky: Yeah. So social norm theory basically talked to this idea that we tend to follow the crowd, right? So, we have a tendency, whether we realize it or not, the idea of keeping up with the Jones, and this is very popular to follow what other people are doing. And this actually reminds me of another chapter in my book, where there was an individual, he had started a company and what they were doing was it was an ed tech company. So basically the concept was, it was a software that employers could provide through their employees to help them learn new skills. So they would go on the app, they would do like a 10 minute lesson, learn a new skill and the goal was for them to actually put that into practice. They could take a video or like an image of themselves doing this thing.
Nate Andorsky: And a lot of individuals were consuming the content, but no one was actually implementing the skills. And they were trying to figure out how to get people to actually take action. And they tried all of these different types of things. One thing they tried was giving people badges and rewards. One thing they tried was actually giving people gift cards and nothing was really working. The gift cards actually backfired cause they triggered something called mental accounting, where people were equating the time they were putting in to what they were being compensated. Eventually, they landed on this one model where when you joined the program, they would split you up into a cohort of about 50 people. And without fail, every time they did this, there was always like two or three people who were off to a really fast start. And they would send a simple message around and say, “Congrats to Jane and Jim, you guys are doing great. You’ve already completed two lessons,” and put them in action.
Nate Andorsky: This created the highest optic in user engagement and in anything they tried. And the reason is, is because what they had done is they’ve changed the social norm around what you should be doing in the app, not by telling people what they should do, not by forcing them, but by simply showing other people in the cohort, what others were doing and that caused this uptick in user engagement.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. That’s a really strong story. I’m also curious, do you have any stories of a time when you worked with a client or used a product and you just thought, “Oh my goodness, these people got behavioral science completely wrong. They don’t understand at all what humans are going to do with this.”
Nate Andorsky: Yeah. I can’t think of a simple example or a specific example because some of the work that we do is confidential. But I think one of the biggest mistakes I often see is gamification, right? You’re trying to get somebody to do something, let’s just gamify it. And there’s a lot of research in regards to intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and how gamified models work. And what’s interesting about that is implementing a gamified model in the wrong context can actually completely backfire in regards to what you’re doing. And again, that goes back to my point is, don’t just slap solutions on things. You’ve really got to understand first and foremost, like what you’re trying to get people to do and the behavioral science behind it, so you don’t run into that instance.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. So, I’m sure we’ve got listeners who’ve either been in the room, or been themselves the one saying, why don’t we gamify it? How do you know if it’s the wrong situation for that?
Nate Andorsky: That’s a great question. So, when we talk about motivation, there are two types of motivations, right? There are intrinsic motivations and there are extrinsic motivations. Extrinsic motivations are things that you’re motivated to do because you’re given some external reward, right? You’re given a pay raise, you’re given a bonus, you’re given a badge. Intrinsic motivation is something that you were just already motivated to do to begin with. You get self fulfillment out of it, you get mastery. Dan Pink talks a lot about this. There’s a lot that goes into when you use a gamified model but one of the key concepts here is if an action is supposed to be intrinsically motivated, offering external reward to do that action can actually have a crowding out effect, right?
Nate Andorsky: So wanting to learn a new skill, if I’m intrinsically motivated to want to learn that new skill, giving me a reward to do that can actually decrease the likelihood that I will perform that skill. Extrinsic motivators typically work really well. And this is a blanket statement, so it’s not true across the board, but when something is not intrinsically motivated and it’s relatively easy to do. So for example, change a light bulb, right? But replace a refrigerator, not very easy to do. I don’t think you’d want to provide a reward for that.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. It makes sense. What are some other behavioral science principles that you found really useful in the product design world?
Nate Andorsky: Yeah. In the product design world, one of the things we found really useful and it goes back to gamification, in game design, there’s something called … have you ever played Mario Kart by any chance?
Holly Hester-Reilly: Of course.
Nate Andorsky: Okay. Do you ever notice in Mario Kart, when you’re in the game and you get far behind all of a sudden you start getting those power ups?
Holly Hester-Reilly: Oh yeah. Like you get the bullet only if you’re in the end, if you’re, if you’re way behind, you might get the bullet, otherwise you’ll never get it.
Nate Andorsky: Exactly.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah.
Nate Andorsky: So it’s actually built into the game. It’s something called dynamic game balancing. It’s also referred to often as rubber banding. The basic concept is, and a lot of games use this when you’re competing against other players. If you’re too far ahead or too far behind you become disengaged. So they’ll rebalance the game. So you catch up to the group. So when you look at, if you have a product design, let’s say there’s some leaderboard, for example, or some competition amongst other players. This is a really key concept to keep in mind, because this is one of the ways that leader boards can backfire is if you get somebody that’s too far ahead of the pact, what happens is everybody else is rationalized as well, there’s no point of even trying, I can’t catch up. Let’s just go ahead and learn to rebalance the game. That’s a really interesting concept that we have seen in product design.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah, absolutely. That reminds me a lot in the early days of mobile and gamification for health, I was working in a mobile health company for a little while. And I remember the founders were like, “Lets gamify everything, let’s make leader boards, let’s make it all social, let’s do this, let’s do that.” And I just remember being like, I know there’s a cohort for which that works, but there’s also a cohort for which that just shuts you down. And it’s always been fascinating to me to see how people think about that. Particularly those making the product design decisions. Have you done any work where you’re applying this in the health space?
Nate Andorsky: We’ve done a little bit of work in the health space. There’s actually a lot of interest from insurance companies around this, but also specifically about just behavior change in general. So one of the big questions is how do I get more of my customers to use virtual health? And this was pre-COVID than in person health. So just changing and shifting those behaviors too. Typically, we see a lot of this resonate in any type of product design where you’re asking users to take an action today that has a longterm potential payout. So you’re looking at health decisions, decisions around your finances, decisions around an online education platform where you’re learning new skill. Because it’s interesting, we actually have a really hard time contrary to what we think is really understanding the impact of the decisions that we make today, how those are going to impact our future self. So that’s a lot where this behavioral science comes in is how do you close that gap?
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah, absolutely. And I know some of those types of companies are the kinds of places that were the first to get chief behavioral officer and things like that. We’ve interviewed Matt Wallaert on this podcast in the past. And I know that’s [crosstalk 00:22:20]. yeah, that’s his title, chief behavioral officer. For a while when I first met him at his Twitter bio said on a mission to become the first chief behavioral officer, made it happen. But switching gears a little bit, have you found yourself thinking about behavior science as you navigate the COVID world and what’s going on around you.
Nate Andorsky: In just my everyday life, like outside of product design?
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah.
Nate Andorsky: Yeah, no, I definitely have. I think it’s really fascinating. One of the things that behavioral science talks about is this idea of scope and sensitivity. And it goes back to the identifiable victim effect where we have a tendency to offer greater rate when a specific person is observed under hardship versus a group of people. And it’s just interesting because as you’ve seen, COVID get larger and larger and larger and the responses have gotten smaller and smaller and smaller. So there’s a lot of the behavioral science behind that and what’s going on with scope and sensitivity. There’s also a lot of research and behavioral science that we just don’t like uncertainty, as soon as you introduce some type of uncertainty into any type of decision, it completely flips on its head, how you make decisions. And there’s a big component of that with COVID. So there’s a lot going on that I think about day in and day out in regards to the current climate.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. I’m curious, because one of the things … there’s a couple of things [inaudible] with that, but one of the most interesting talks I have watched online in the past several months was actually Dan Arielli talking about what might happen as COVID progresses. Like what does the future look like post COVID? And I remember he talked about how people adjust to what’s going on around them and these different phases of life after COVID that we might see and how he’s seeing those based on people’s comfort with what’s going on in their likelihood to take certain behaviors.
Holly Hester-Reilly: And I think of all of the … I guess, predictions about what life is going to look like, his was one of the ones that [inaudible] the most true to me where I was like, “Yes, that seems right.” And there were a lot of times in the early days of COVID, early days of quarantining in the US where people around me were getting all of their news and predictions from TV news. And I was getting mine from our world and data and various scientific places. And I sometimes would have a conversation and I was just like, “Well, we have totally different pictures of what’s going on in the world right now.”
Nate Andorsky: Yeah. That’s interesting. What were some of the things that Dan noted?
Holly Hester-Reilly: I’m hesitant to say I watched it maybe one and a half times. So, but what I remember was there being a phase of people who are more risk tolerant, beginning to do things again, which I think we’re in now, but some things taking a very long time to come back to normal. One of the things that I remember standing out a lot was he was working with the Israeli government on how to help keep the economy moving in these times. And he did some studies on it, or maybe not studies.
Holly Hester-Reilly: He did some application of the science around restaurants and coffee shops and finding that if they set up their restaurant or coffee shop outside during COVID times in a way that people are still able to meet and congregate that would help them continue to do it. Versus if they just like, can’t do it for a long time and then they have to start. It’ll seem really weird. Which I think resonates well with like what we’re doing here in New York city, where I am that everything is outdoor dining only. And so people are getting comfortable being around other people outside, but not so comfortable being around other people inside. I think it was a really big awareness of just norms are changing. And even when it’s safe, again, people will feel weird.
Nate Andorsky: Yeah. No, it’s really interesting, and say with what Dan said is, and it goes back to the actually example about the cohort model and social norms is like, one of the biggest ways to get people to change their behaviors, you change their environment, you change the rules of the game, the dorms. So one of the things that I imagine that Dan was talking about is, if you change the norm where you don’t dine, and then you try to dine, it’s weird. But if you always keep this dining going, the norm never really changed drastically. I think one of the big questions is they’re like, “How long does a new norm, like working from home, whatever it may be, you need to change for that to actually become the norm moving forward versus reverting back to whatever the old norm was?”
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. And I do remember he drew this graph of … I don’t think he necessarily put, I certainly didn’t put exact timelines on it. He might’ve put a general idea, but I remember coming away with the idea that the expansion of activities, there’d be this contraction of activities that people think are okay to do. And then there’d be this period where the set the minimum amount of okay, acceptable activities. And then there’d be like a couple of phases of expansion and that each of those would basically all take a long time. That we were going to be in this contracted phase for long enough that those contracted norms would become the norms. And in many ways we would be starting a new with what’s okay to practice in society.
Nate Andorsky: It’s also fascinating. There’s a lot of attribution errors that people make. And I do too with how you navigate COVID. Your own rules that you’ve set for yourself where it’s, I’m going to socially distance. I will only see this person, this person, this person, but not this person. But the reason I’ll see this person is because they’re my friend. So for whatever reason, because they’re my friend I’ve made this correlation that they’re less likely to contract COVID. So there’s a lot of this sort of you create your own environment, your own rule book, you’ll bend certain roles, but not bend other rules. But if somebody else bends the same rule, do you look at that as them breaking the rules, but you can justify it to yourself. And then you will also make justifications for things that really rationally may not make a lot of sense. But I think part of it is trying to create some certainty around the environment and some rule book to play within. So I think that’s really interesting too.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. And I think you’re totally right. I think a lot of the behaviors we’ve seen have had to do with that, just people trying to create some certainty and trying to create some sense of control because they’re so uncomfortable with the uncertainty. And that also brings me to the … I guess one of the other big reasons why I brought up COVID in this conversation is that when this first happened, I felt that being a person who spends so much time conceptually thinking about and living with uncertainty in the products world has affected the way I deal with the whole thing that I’m less stressed out than a lot of my friends who don’t work in industries where everything is changing so fast. And it’s so uncertain all the time. Because I’m just more used to it. I’m more used to the uncertainty and to embracing it and saying, “How can we work with it to rather than pretend it doesn’t exist?”
Nate Andorsky: Sure.
Holly Hester-Reilly: And I think one of the other things I’ve seen a lot of is I guess the attribution errors. People are … there are certain behaviors that are normal and not normal, but they don’t always really well correlate to what’s risky and not risky. Sometimes it’s like, “What’s easier to control than others?” That ends up being the thing and it’s fascinating to watch. In the beginning of COVID here in New York, I had been a person who regularly was ordering groceries by delivery via apps before COVID started. But when COVID started, all of a sudden, I couldn’t get time slots anymore because everybody was doing it. So I had to go to the grocery store regularly. And so I had this weird sensation of like, “There’s all these things we’re not doing and yet I’m going to the grocery store.” At least once a week with my children because I didn’t have another choice. And so I would be like, “Well, all the things I’m not doing and yet here I am a bunch of strangers in a store where we touch things.”
Nate Andorsky: It’s interesting. And it’s also interesting and it ties back to your comment about what makes sense in academia and not in the applied side. There was a podcast that was listened to by the cops and they were talking about, and this was a couple of months ago, but using face mask coverings and there’s studies that have come out since showing their effectiveness. But this was a time when like, we weren’t really sure in academia, it’s like, is it statistically significant? And the applied side, and this instance is like, “Does it do any harm?” No. So what harm? Even if it’s only a little bit effective. Even if it’s not statistically significant, whatever it is, does it make sense not to wear a mask? And that’s some of the balance that we often see from the applied side versus the academic side is that it’s very contextual. It matters what the payoff is, but it also matters what the risks are in each situation.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. and I think, I guess one of the other places where I see this, I’m a parent, I have two kids and they’re both at this point, they’re both school-aged, which is bizarre for me to say, my son is going into pre-K. So just hitting that point. My younger one, but so we’re spending a lot of conversations amongst parents about, “Well, what are you going to do when school starts? Are you sending your kids, are you not sending your kids, are you comfortable with this, what are you comfortable with, what are you changing? Et cetera.” And it’s fascinating to me what things people will and won’t live with.
Holly Hester-Reilly: And some of it has to do with this awareness and that sense of what is a scary, short term outcome, like a scary, short term, negative outcome versus a scary longer-term negative outcome. People are always optimizing for the short term ones. They’re always scared of that short term thing and not as worried about the longterm thing, meanwhile, I am going to be really fascinated if not disheartened by the social and non tablet-based skills that the little kids today will have because they’re so isolated, there’s this life for our kids was already changing before COVID and now all of a sudden we’re like, “Stay home, stare at a screen, you’re supposed to do it. It’s like, “Oh my gosh.”
Nate Andorsky: Yeah. That’s fascinating.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. So are there any other key principles or thoughts that you want to share with our listeners about Decoding The Why?
Nate Andorsky: Yeah. So there’s two other key takeaways. One is really fascinating that I love to talk about. Because you just brought it up about present bias, where we heavily overweight our present situation versus our future with situation. And that, the way that we view time is really interesting. And there’s research that talks about your current self versus your future self. So when you think about your future self and the future, you’re trying to do something to better your future self, whether it’s save more money, eat better, work out more. The way that we view our self today is in first person, the way that we view our future self is actually in third person. And what this does, is there’s research that suggests that the way that we view our quote unquote, future self is a stranger. So even though we say we care for that future self, what happens to him or her is as inconsequential as it happening to some random person that walks by on the street.
Nate Andorsky: So that’s one of the reasons that you see this dynamic where it’s really hard to save money for retirement, for example, because even though we say we care about myself in 60, 65 years, the reality of it is, is it’s not very salient. We don’t really connect with that future self. So that’s one really interesting concept that I really dig into in the book, talking about this paradox. And then also, how do you close that gap? And then the last part and I closed the book out with this, it’s called driven by emotion. And it talks about how poor we are understanding and getting us to move action when we’re throwing numbers and stats and how we connect and relate to stories and how we think about the world and stories and how you can create a product experience and talk about the work that you’re doing in stories that will create a much more compelling narrative than throwing numbers and stats at individuals.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. And why is that? Why does that work so much better?
Nate Andorsky: I tapped into our emotional side, which that’s really what drives us to take action. It also goes back to this concept of the hero’s journey. So this is used in storytelling and in movies, but it enables us to really put ourselves in the place of a person and experience what they’re experiencing. And that is one of the big poles why this type of approach works really well.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah, absolutely. That’s something I’ve found as well. It definitely in my product management career, it helped a lot. Once I started really honing my craft at telling stories as a way of getting moving forward a business.
Nate Andorsky: Yeah. It’s completely true. We would like to about things from a beginning, middle and end. And you’ll notice, and I always talk about this too, is like Nike sells shoes, but all of their marketing’s around storytelling of the athletes. And that’s what gets its guests hooked.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah, exactly. And I was just thinking that too, with regards to even B2B businesses, the sales process and the pitch deck and things like that. There’s a lot of stuff out there that says that the best ones are the ones that put the buyer in the hero’s shoes and take them through the journey of, here’s why you are going to be amazing at work when you buy this product, when you buy this service, rather than here’s all the amazing things about us. It’s so much more effective and it makes people more motivated to take action.
Nate Andorsky: Exactly.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Yeah. So would you have any advice for budding behavioral science influenced a product designer or a product manager?
Nate Andorsky: Yes. Well, first one is read my book. It does a really great job of taking very complex theories and making them accessible and giving you really actionable insights. You can start to use right away. It’s not the holy grail, it just scratches the surface. But the biggest thing that I’ve learned is you’d … and people who build products just already know this, but you just need to get your hands dirty sitting around and reading about the academic literature is great, but at the end of the day, you’re not going to really learn this stuff until you just try to start integrating it, seeing what works and what doesn’t work and when something does or doesn’t work, trying to tie it back to the behavioral science and say, “Oh, this is why it works, this is why it doesn’t work.” But the dirtier you can get your hands, the more you can really start to work with yourself, with this type of methodology. That’s how you’re going to really be able to really grasp it rather than just have a surface level understanding of it.
Holly Hester-Reilly: So you got to give it a try. You got to maybe fail a little bit along the way, and then you’ll figure it out even more deeply?
Nate Andorsky: Exactly. And it makes I think your job too, a little bit easier. Because when you’re making product recommendations, rather than just telling a client, or if you’re on a product team internally, “Hey, this is what I think we should do.” You can say, “Well, this is what the behavioral science says as to why we’re making this recommendation and it just gives you another leg to stand on.” Because we’re not often, sometimes we see that really well designed products have behavioral science and fuse all through them. The product designers didn’t know they were using behavioral science. They’ve become so good at building products that they figured out what works and what doesn’t work. So just tying that back in to the behavioral science piece.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Absolutely. All right. And where can people find your book and where can they find you?
Nate Andorsky: So Amazon, just search Decoding the Why it’ll come up, it’s available on Kindle and Paperback and then myself, you can find me on LinkedIn. I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. So, Nate Andorsky, just search for me and connect and then the website for my company is, not com .co and you can sign up for my newsletter on there too.
Holly Hester-Reilly: Wonderful. Awesome. Well, thank you so much. It’s been a real pleasure, Nate.
Nate Andorsky: It has too. Thank you so much for having me.
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