Behavioral Economics 📚: A Reading List for #BehaviorHacking
My curiosity about behavioral economics started during my undergraduate days at UC Davis where I first read Freakonomics by economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner. Little did I know that more than a decade later the concepts in their book were going to heavily influence my career and the way we think about product interventions at Flourish.
Behavioral economics combines two disciplines, economics and psychology, and is an often debated topic at our dinner table as Kayla (my wife) is a clinical Psychologist and I studied Economics. The field explores social, psychological, cognitive, emotional and cultural insights to explain people’s economic decision-making. Differing from classical economic theory as it focuses on highlighting the gap between people’s intentions and their actions.
Behavioral economics concepts help create meaningful solutions and interventions that drive behavior change. That’s why over the years these principles have become more prevalent in consumer technology. Flourish is bringing this science to our platform to help financial institutions better engage with their clients. We are using behavioral economics to turn something previously transactional and mundane like banking into an accessible, rewarding and personalized experience.
During our product journey, the Flourish team has been inspired by the work of many incredible people in the field. In transcribing these theories into product and valuable features, the Flourish team coined the team Behavior Hacking.
“Behavioral Hacking is a strategy that combines a nudge system, gamification and intelligent mechanics to empower everyday people to build positive habits.”
Since starting Flourish Savings alongside Jessica Eting, my consumption of books related to the topic has drastically increased. Many people have also asked me for recommendations of impactful reads and so I have put together a list of books which have influenced my thinking, plus I added a few that are on my future reading list.
I’m always happy to talk about books that shaped my career and personal life, especially as they are related to behavioral science, habit building, financial wellness and human behavior. I would also love to hear what other people are reading as I am often looking for inspiration. Leave your recommendations in the comments below.
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.
This is a must read for those who are curious about human behavior. It is an entertaining and thought-provoking read that covers psychological traps and our irrational tendencies in decision making. A recommended read for all members of the Flourish team.
Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter.
Dan Ariely & Jeff Kreisler
I had fairly high expectations for this book after having read Predictably Irrational. Some elements were a bit of a repeat, but it provided a good perspective on how people make choices and mistakes around money.
The “opportunity cost” of reading the book is still worth it. (pun intended)
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.
Steven Levitt, Stephen Dubner
This was my introduction to the field, and I read it 10+ years ago when I was finishing my undergraduate studies. A light bulb went on for me! My takeaway — economics boils down to incentives, stimuli and motivators. It is an entertaining read.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
I highly recommend this book and also know that it is a dense read. It digs deep into human judgment, decision-making and choices. Daniel Kahneman is a great thinker.
Loyalty 3.0: How to Revolutionize Customer and Employee Engagement with Big Data and Gamification.
Unlike the title might suggest, this is not a technical book. It’s more of a practical one with an overview of loyalty, gamification and its applications. I find it offers good case studies and thoughts on how to implement these techniques and frameworks.
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein
Nudge is a classic! This book helps you understand how to apply the principles of behavioral economics to drive actions. I enjoyed how the authors discussed ways to organize and present choices to impact people’s behavior in a predictable way.
Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards
This book is filled with real life examples. It provides a framework (Octalysis) with eight motivational core drives for designing interventions. I find this to be a very practical book and helpful for product teams.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
This book discusses how habits are formed, and makes recommendations to overcome undesirable behaviors. Currently, I am practicing some of these concepts to put down my cellphone more often. 😉
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
This is an important read for entrepreneurs, product managers, marketers and designers seeking to drive engagement and influence habit creation. It describes the reward elements that drive people’s actions.
The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science
In the search to learn more about how people learn and adapt, I was curious about brain plasticity (also know as Neuroplasticity). The stories in the book highlights how we learn, unlearn and reinforces how incredible fascinating our brains are. I found myself connecting the insights from this read to different aspects of my life, including product development and the creation of systems.
The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds
This book reads more like a biography of two incredible trailblazers that kicked off the field of behavioral economics. Lewis shares the story of friendship and collaboration between Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky. In the process, it shines a light on their work around decision-making.
Books currently in my reading queue.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Robert B. Cialdini
This is on my list because it is supposed to be a “classic” on persuasion. It was written back in the 80s by Dr. Robert Cialdini, an expert in both influence and persuasion. The book highlights six principles (Reciprocation, Commitment & Consistency, Social Proof, Authority, Liking and Scarcity) and how to leverage them to become a skilled influencer. I am excited to explore and understand how some of these concepts still hold true today.
Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics
The author, Nobel laureate Richard Thaler, is a pioneer and thought-leader in the space. The book explores how people “misbehave” differently than how traditional economic models portray people; we aren’t as rational of beings as the models suggest. While describing the book, Thaler used the analogies of Spock’s personalities representing the traditional models while highlighting that people are likely more similar to a characters like Homer Simpson.
The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life
Uri Gneezy Uri,List, John Gneezy, John List
The book is supposed to combine behavioral economics and business strategy — including experiment and methodology ideas. I am excited to better understand the experimentation mindset shared in the book and get inspired to apply new ideas through Flourish.
As a bonus, I have also added a few podcasts on the topic of Human Behavior and Economics.
Freakonomics: The podcast explores socio-economic topics in ways that may just turn conventional wisdom on its head. Often entertaining and thought provoking, and sometimes even a bit bizarre.
Hidden Brain: Hosted by the iconic Shankar Vedantam, the show covers social sciences and unconscious patterns that drive human behavior. I enjoy listening to this one during long drives.
Planet Money by NPR: This one leans more on the economics and economy side, but it does a great job of being entertaining and portraying concepts in a creative narrative. They talk about a lot of current events through an economics lens.
No Stupid Questions: Stephen Dubner (Freakonomics book co-author) and Angela Duckworth (psychologist and author of Grit) take questions from people, and reinforce the fact that there’s no such thing as a stupid one. These interesting conversations are more broadly focused on human behavior.
I hope the list catches your interest and you find something to inspire you and the products you’re building!