We are trying to change the way that people learn behavioral science because, frankly, the ways that exist right now aren't very good. There is too much institutional knowledge locked up inside the heads of a few experts and smaller teams, and very little around best practices are shared. Part of the reason is the field is very new, and part of it is that it's largely driven by high-price consultants who do their work out of public view (or on public projects where they can't disclose their contributions due to NDAs, etc).
We have worked with and spoken with and hired a lot of people who have gone to top schools for behavioral science or done some online programs. And it seems like they learned a lot of great concepts, but had to learn a lot on the job when it came to putting behavioral science into practice. Whether they ended up at a startup, a consulting firm, a big company, or in policy, people said they often didn't get the skills and expertise that they needed in their next chapter.
Many of the best practitioners we know or people we've hired actually honed their skills rapidly in small behavioral agencies or in fast-paced teams at the small number of companies at the bleeding edge of applying behavioral science to business or public sector initiatives (like the UK BIT, Spotify, Irrational Labs, Maritz, Big Health, etc). It was a more trial-and-error or sometimes apprenticeship-type model where the dots were finally connected between theory and practice.
We also looked at a lot of online, non-academic courses, but few of them really align with how learning happens—which is very strange because we feel that the literature on cognitive psychology and learning is pretty robust. People learn by doing and getting feedback—ideally with peers and mentoring—not by watching hour-plus lecture videos or reading an endless stream of paywalled content.
Well for one, it wouldn't be a two-day workshop. It wouldn't be a four-week sprint, either. No one's gonna master anything in two days or four weeks. That's a great length of time for someone who's outside the field to get up to speed on new concepts or to learn something new if it's small. It's not an appropriate timeframe to create the expertise to really build a career on. You need a model that invests in people long-term and isn't trying to cram 100 things into a tight timeframe, like studying for an exam.
The research is pretty clear: if you want to get really good at something, you have to do a little bit over time, again and again and again. You have to increasingly broaden your skill set and get out of your comfort zone, deliberate practice-style. And you have to get rapid, constructive feedback—ideally from an expert. That's the most effective way to do it, according to more papers than we can fit in our Dropbox.
And one more thing that helps: you have to align incentives correctly.
We don't like programs where there's no proof whether someone actually understands the ideas or can deploy the tactics in a productive way. Like all good behavioral interventions, there has to be measurable outcome criteria—a specific deliverable that proves someone can do something. That shouldn't be taking a test, creating a diagram, or doing homework. It should be proving your ability to change behavior in a real-world setting, and in a way that's actually valuable (where "valuable" means someone paid or would pay you to do it).
We think if you're claiming to teach people serious career skills, you should only get paid if they get hired and stay productive. The course creators should bear the risk of the efficacy of the program, not the people learning.
The problem with the field in general is that there are a lot of amazing behavioral experts in the world, and the ones with the most real data and experience aren't in academia. There are quite a few incredible academics and professors who have immense experience in the field from working with businesses, startups, and governments, but they aren't the majority.
Most of the insights that are really at the forefront of innovation and behavior change are confined to the brains of a fairly small number of extremely highly-paid people. And unfortunately, they often don't have a huge incentive (or free time) to try and distill that into knowledge for others. A lot of the data that shaped their expertise is actually locked down under confidentiality clauses from consulting contracts, employment agreements, or similar limitations.
Even when behavioral experts are free to share, there's the curse of knowledge and chunking and other cognitive phenomena that make it hard to deliver these insights in an accessible way to new entrants to the field. And just because you're amazing at something doesn't mean you're amazing at teaching it. Michael Jordan is awesome at basketball, but you probably don't want him coaching your kids' JV basketball team.
This is a really important problem to solve, since we're going to (try) taking some of these experts and productizing their playbooks. We're going to help distill their knowledge into a high-density, fun, and actionable format. And we're going to build systems to help them coach people in the most efficient, high-impact way possible. Ultimately, we want to give learners a broad view of the concepts of behavioral science—not just limited to one person or one expert's perspective. Many top practitioners in the field have different tactics and even different readings of the theoretical literature, but still drive terrific results. The field is an interdisciplinary one by nature and rapidly-evolving, so no one has a monopoly on insight. There isn't a "perfect" or "best" way to do behavioral science—there are different tools and approaches for different contexts, and the more you know, the better off you'll be.
We're super excited about this and can't wait to start the first cohort. If you'd like to join or hire graduates from the Fellowship, we'd love to hear from you and the giant call-to-action section is below.