Action Design Radio

Action Design Radio explores a variety of topics through the lens of behavioral science and psychology. Hosts Erik Johnson and Zarak Khan interview experts and practitioners to learn about cutting edge behavioral research, and how to practically apply it to fields like public policy and consumer products. The podcast is supported by the Action Design Network, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 2012 to promote the use of behavioral economics and psychology with over 10,000 members across the US and Canada.
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Sep 11, 2019

Zarak and Erik are joined by behavioral designer Nir Eyal, the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.” Nir has taught business and design at Stanford, founded two technology companies, and helps teams design more engaging products. His writing on technology, psychology, and business appears in the Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, TechCrunch, and Psychology Today.

Nir discusses the themes and inspiration behind his latest book “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life,” released September 10th, including why we struggle with distraction, the overuse of technology, and tips for overcoming those issues to live to the fullest extent of your values.

Aug 30, 2019

We've been getting a lot of questions lately about how to start a career in behavioral science. To shed some light on different career paths, we're doing a series of podcasts on different types of training that fall somewhere between a one-day workshop and a PhD. These aren't advertisements for the programs, but are meant to give you a sense of the kinds of options out there, should you decide to pursue a career in behavioral science.

In our second Behavioral Science Training installment, Erik and Zarak are joined by Christopher Nave, Associate Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences program. Chris shares his passion for bringing together graduate students from diverse industries, backgrounds, and disciplines in order to study decision-making and better understand sustainable behavior change. Chris explains how measurement, data science, and experimental design are crucial to applying academic concepts like cognitive biases and heuristics to the real world.

Jul 23, 2019
We've been getting a lot of questions lately about how to start a career in behavioral science. To shed some light on different career paths, we're doing a series of podcasts on different types of training that fall somewhere between a one-day workshop and a PhD. These aren't advertisements for the programs, but are meant to give you a sense of the type of things out there, should you decide to pursue a career in behavioral science. 
In this episode, we focus on a ten-week bootcamp from Irrational Labs. Evelyn Gosnell is a behavioral economics consultant who focuses on the application of behavioral insights in product design, marketing, and organizational design. She is Managing Director at Irrational Labs, as well as the leader of their Behavioral Economics Bootcamp. 
Today Evelyn joins Zarak and Erik to break down the services that Irrational Labs provides its partners in order to increase end users' health, wealth, and happiness.


Mar 18, 2019

Spencer Greenberg is an applied mathematician, entrepreneur, and self-described “collector of powerful tools.” He is the Founder and CEO of multiple companies, including Spark Wave – a venture builder (a.k.a. a foundry, or startup studio) that creates software products with the goal of achieving large social impact. Spencer joins Erik and Zarak to discuss his unique perspective on psychology and behavior. He takes a background in technology and combines it with applied social science to build platforms that implement complex behavioral interventions.

How does one choose the right methodology when conducting a study? What’s the difference between testing a hypothesis and trying to accurately predict the future? How does fatigue change throughout the day? Are most people who suffer from depression aware of it? How can social media be utilized to inspire creative thinking in research? Why publish a paper when you can release an app that people can use?

All of those questions and more are addressed in our latest installment of Action Design Radio!

Jan 28, 2019

Adam Gilbert is a nationally-recognized health, fitness, and motivational expert and trainer. He is the Founder of MyBodyTutor, which helps people stick to their health and fitness goals. Adam is regularly featured in national media, and is a syndicated author on the topics of nutrition, emotional eating, the psychology of weight loss, exercise, willpower, behavior and habit change, commitment and motivation. 

Adam joins our hosts Erik and Zarak to discuss his approach to creating long-term, sustainable behavior change. By nature, change is inherently uncomfortable, so how do we make it as comfortable as possible? After years of learning and incorporating psychology into his work, Adam’s philosophy is that the only way to really help someone get through that initial discomfort is through heavy support and accountability. He also stresses the importance of avoiding the all-or-nothing mindset: The 20-minute workout you do is better than the hour-long workout you don’t do, and the good diet you can stick with is better than the perfect diet you can’t sustain.

By utilizing daily and personal accountability, Adam and MyBodyTutor use MPH (Mindset, Psychology & Habits) to help their clients take their behavior change goals from concept to reality.


Dec 17, 2018

Elizabeth Kim is an Applied Behavioral Scientist at the e-commerce company, where she designs and conducts experiments to make better products for users. She is also founder of the Duke Behavioral Science Group, a community of Duke University students and faculty dedicated to applying behavioral science to policies, products, and businesses for social good.

Our hosts Zarak and Erik chat with Elizabeth about her BeSci origin story, including how a meaningful conversation with Dan Ariely led to a partnership where they tested the behavioral effects of just that: having meaningful conversations. They discuss the importance of acting on your curiosity, being versatile, and taking the initiative in a world where there’s currently more interest in behavioral science than there are jobs specifically made for BeSci experts.

Elizabeth offers inspiration and advice to individuals – from students to experienced professionals – who want to integrate behavioral science into what they do but are unsure where to start. Examples are discussed and tips are shared about how to take action and build something even when the factors aren’t in place for a formal BeSci intervention.

Nov 16, 2018

Ruth Schmidt is a Visiting Industry Professor and Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Illinois Institute of Technology – Institute of Design. Prior to joining ID, Ruth served as a senior leader at Doblin/Deloitte for over eight years, where she led teams in applying design-informed innovation strategy to solve complex challenges and grow new innovation functions within client organizations, primarily in the health care and financial services industries. She has presented on behavioral economics and communication theory + design at multiple institutions, publications, and conferences.

In our Season Two opener, Ruth joins Erik and Zach to discuss the intersection of behavioral science and design. Ruth shares her perspective on the importance of considering the people for whom you are designing a product, service, or experience. They cover cross-industry examples of when to lead with a behavioral science lens and support it by design thinking, vice versa, and why.

Jul 31, 2018

Jeff Kreisler is just a typical Princeton educated lawyer turned author, speaker, pundit, comedian, and behavioral science advocate. He uses humor and research to understand, explain, and change the world. Winner of the Bill Hicks Spirit Award for Thought Provoking Comedy, he runs, writes for TV, politicians and CEOs, and shares witty insight on CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC, and SiriusXM.

In our latest episode, Jeff joins Zarak and Zach to chat about his journey from comedian to behavioral science thought leader. They discuss the most important takeaways from his latest book “Dollars and Sense” (co-authored with Dan Ariely) , as well as his current and future projects. Other topics include how people can use behavioral science to improve their everyday lives without being obsessive, and the importance of always having a sense of humor.

May 24, 2018

Kelly Leonard is the Executive Director of Insights and Applied Improvisation at The Second City and President of Second City Theatricals. He has worked at The Second City since 1988 and has overseen productions with such notable performers as Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Adam McKay, Seth Meyers, Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler, Jason Sudeikis, Keegan-Michael Key, Horatio Sans, Amy Sedaris and a host of others.

In our newest episode, Erik and Zarak chat with Kelly about his recent involvement with the Second Science Project – a partnership between Second City and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. The Second Science Project utilizes cutting-edge behavioral science to better study, understand, and support improvisation in everyday life. By approaching behavioral science through the lens of improvisational comedy, they create executive training programs for businesses to improve innovation, creative thinking, and ways to challenge our instincts and assumptions.

Apr 18, 2018

Today’s guest is Kristen Berman, co-founder of Duke University’s Common Cents Lab, as well as co-founder (with Dan Ariely) of Irrational Labs. Kristen was on the founding team for the behavioral economics group at Google and has spoken at Facebook, Fidelity, Equifax, Stanford, and many more.

Erik and Zarak chat with Kristen about her philosophy of incorporating behavioral science into the Product Manager’s domain, creating what she dubs the Behavioral Product Manager. Kristen outlines how behavioral science gives us the missing pieces of the Product Manager’s toolkit.

For example, a BPM would prioritize measurement and experimental infrastructure sooner than a normal PM would, highlighting that you can’t move a company toward consumer outcome if you’re not properly measuring it. Most companies, as well as their Product Managers, use traditional methods like focus groups and interviews to find out what their customers “think” and how they “feel.” But the Behavioral Product Manager concentrates on things like behavioral mapping and identifying friction, because the behavioral world focuses more on what people do and less on what they say.

Mar 19, 2018

In this week’s episode, our hosts sit down with Linnea Gandhi, managing partner of the boutique consulting firm BehavioralSight and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Linnea, Erik, and Zarak discuss the importance of following the scientific method. This process applies to all settings, including the corporate world where the demand is always for results – and getting them today (or yesterday, if possible). Avoiding gut reactions, intuition, and emotional responses – and instead replacing them with statistics, data, and algorithms – will lead to more optimal decision-making.

But how do we apply this process, especially in situations where important decisions are at stake? Linnea’s focus is on getting executives across industries to realize that we are all more capable of creating algorithms than we may think – even when it comes to decisions such as whether to merger with or acquire another company, or whether to lay off a significant amount of their workforce.

Linnea argues that research and psychological literature are not useful to most people unless you can apply it somewhere practical. So she urges us to make our brains work more like an algorithm by removing intuition from the equation as much as possible. Reduce the “noise” as much as you can and isolate the data. Then, translate your behavioral science improvements to the language of the stakeholders. That is what will truly grab attention.

And never forget to be painfully aware of your own confirmation bias.

Jan 22, 2018

Erik and Zarak are joined by Dr. Sarah Newcomb, behavioral economist at Morningstar, an investment research firm committed to improving the wellbeing of investors through the use of research and software. Sarah’s personal passion and professional goal is to bring independent financial advice to populations that are currently underserved by the financial services industry, namely: women, low/moderate income households, and younger investors.

Sarah discusses the psychology of money and explores why smart people can make poor financial decisions. She outlines techniques to change one’s thinking, such as distinguishing between a “need” and a “strategy” to meet that need. A person may not need a car. What they need is transportation, and a car is one of several strategies to meet that need – all of which come along with a different price tag. Zarak doesn’t necessarily need to go to Starbucks every day. What he needs is to get out of the office for 15 minutes every afternoon, and Starbucks is just one strategy to meet that need. Sarah invokes Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to help us reevaluate what our true needs are, and why that can help us financially.

Jan 7, 2018

How can we create better habits? This is a question many of us ask ourselves as we enter the New Year and try to implement our resolutions (and stick with them). Life outcomes like exercising regularly, flossing, eating a healthy diet, studying hard in school, making wise financial decisions – why are better habits so hard to maintain? And what can we do in order to improve our chances of meeting these goals for ourselves?

In this week’s episode, Erik and Zarak tackle these questions with Dr. Katy Milkman, associate professor of behavioral economics at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. They discuss behavioral concepts like habits, incentives, motivation, rewards, consequences, accountability, and commitment devices. Katy brings an engineering background to her current focus on quantitative social science research, such as how to help people create lasting and positive behavior change.

One of the most relevant behavioral concepts to New Year’s is the fresh start effect – how at the start of new cycles in our lives, we feel extra motivated to tackle new goals. Entering a new period makes us feel like we have a separation from our past failures, and we have a renewed optimism to finally do the things we want to do but never got around to. According to Katy, emphasizing milestones or life events (big or small) can be effective motivators for behavior change.

Nov 27, 2017

Join Erik and Zarak for a new episode with guest Dr. Julian Jamison, member of the Mind/Behavior/Development (eMBeD) Team at the World Bank. Julian’s focus is on behavioral applications in international policy development in economics, health, and finance. His background includes a Ph.D. in Economics from M.I.T. and experience working with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington, D.C.  

In 2015 the World Bank came out with a World Development Report titled “Mind, Society, Behavior.” Since then, there’s been an overt focus on using behavioral science in order to improve the way the World Bank attempts to fulfill its mission around the world. Julian discusses how the World Bank utilizes behavioral economics to tackle global issues such as poverty, early childhood development, household finance, health, and climate change. Follow the eMBeD Team’s current projects and publications on their website:

Julian also shares the behavioral similarities that are essentially universal to all human beings, and others that differ from culture to culture. He also discusses the history of field experiments and how his team utilizes them in their work. 

Nov 5, 2017

Dr. Rory Gallagher is a member of the Behavioural Insights Team and co-author of “Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals." His interview focuses on the application of behavioral concepts to government, to create better public policies and services that benefit citizens in myriad ways, and personal development. His new book co-authored with Owain Service, “Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals,” details how behavioral science can help people achieve their goals.

Oct 23, 2017

Mariel Beasley, Senior Applied Researcher at the Center for Advanced Hindsight and Co-Director of the Common Cents Lab, covers various behavioral science topics, such as the pros and cons of mental accounting and simple ways local governments can get citizens to recycle more. Her research and application experience, coupled with studies she’s run with Dan Ariely, make for a wide-ranging and fascinating conversation with the Action Design Radio hosts.

Oct 6, 2017

Behavioral Scientist Matt Wallaert joins Erik and Zarak to chat about how and why organizations should create a Chief Behavioral Officer position. Matt shares insights and examples from his 15+ years of behavioral science experience to explore how academic concepts can be practically and efficiently applied to businesses. Ethical considerations are discussed, always keeping the public good in mind. Low operational costs and high efficacy make the creation of a CBO position a savvy idea for businesses.

Oct 6, 2017

Your hosts Erik Johnson and Zarak Khan introduce themselves and give listeners a brief insight into what Action Design stands for and what to expect from the podcast.