In Behavioral Science, Industry Needs Academia and Vice Versa

In Behavioral Science, Industry Needs Academia and Vice Versa

Everyday businesses around the world re-brand themselves as “Behavioral Science” driven, but what does that really mean? Did these businesses hire a team of reformed academics who fled universities in search of striking it big in the business world? Was the CEO primed to create a specialized unit by the flurry of tweets surrounding Betsy Paluck’s MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ award or Richard Thaler’s Nobel Prize win?

The answer lies somewhere in between. But one thing is for sure: the corporate world is evolving with the influx in popularity of behavioral science and it must catch up with the standards set forth in academia that paved the way for the amalgamation of the fields. Likewise, with a significant amount of knowledge flowing out of academia and into industry, it is time for institutions to adapt some of the processes that make businesses so agile and successful.

Academia and industry (of all sorts) have been siloed for far too long. The reputation that modern US academic institutions have developed in taking such a long time to innovate internal processes and environments drove bright minds out of the field, while taking their insights and innovation with them. Post-doctoral researchers and tenured professors cannot investigate the social sciences in environments that do not value a steady stream of innovation as the case in medicine. With all of the red tape and time spent exploring repetitive subjects, brilliant minds exploring doctoral careers are not allowed to explore the world to their full potential.

Online learning certainly revolutionized the way students learn in recent years and at the same time fostered the erosion of educational institutions as we have come to know them. With these subtle changes afoot, it is not surprising that the feedback to academic institutions from industry leaders has begun to shape the discussion about whether a Ph.D. is a requirement to enter the field or whether there is another route that provides the academic rigor within an environment that is agile and prosperous.

Institutions, such as the University of Pennsylvania, heeded the call to meet the need for delivering behavioral scientists who posses a firm understanding of theory and application. The newly minted Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences program was designed with the idea that Masters level researchers can still partake in rigorous academic pursuits while taking away tangible hard skills with applications in industry immediately after the completion of academic studies- foregoing the traditional dissertation period. As more and more universities explore offering similar programs, we can expect a transfer of ideas from academia into industry that was unimagined previously.

By providing the business world with entry to mid-level investigators who are well versed in experimental design and statistical analysis, industry leaders will be poised to harness the true power of exploring behavioral sciences. For too long, business executives tossed around buzz words such as “behavioral science” and “behavioral economics” without comprehending the true value of these fields to their firms. The changing educational dynamic has made it possible for business to translate traditionally academic research functions into solving problems for businesses.

As an innovator in the financial decision making space, the Think Forward Initiative, led by the ING Bank, embarked on a mission to “bring together experts representing governments, academics, consumers, and the financial and technology sectors.” Their pursuits have been quite fruitful with the creation of an international research challenge, which will ““discover” issues and [transfer them to] an accelerator that will use innovation to “solve” them. In this community, the TFI’s experts connect and collaborate, and monitor how its progress and impact are communicated to the world”. One of the primary goals of the research challenge was to connect the academic community with the innovators capable of rapidly disseminating solutions to those in need without losing the value of the research in lengthy academic papers or processes. Compared with the traditional academic institutional model, this approach yields measureable success in a short amount of time.

It is an exciting time for those in the behavioral and decision sciences field. With innovators constantly trying to re-invent the way we embark on research and understand human decision-making, the walls between academia and industry can be broken down. The agile processes that make businesses so profitable can be transferred to academia in the same way that experimental design and analysis can be used along side other behavioral science principles to make a difference in the lives of individuals around the world.