In late January 2023, I attended the pilot Curiosity Incubator hosted by Bridget Gildea, Visiting Scholar at the Intellectual Forum, Jesus College, Cambridge. Bridget’s big idea is to create an “Accelerator for Good” where innovation is coupled with behavioural insights, so that solutions actually work for the humans that need them.
This intrigued me! I work at the intersection of innovation, scale and behavioural science, which is why I was there. My work is creating a behavioural science research platform — Gorilla — that is used globally to test and understand human behaviour and develop interventions that help humans succeed.
My journey into facilitating a psychologically healthy world started 14 years ago. I started with a small idea: study psychology and research evidenced informed ways of teaching mathematics. I’ve written about this in more detail here: https://jbcole.co.uk/blog/industry-interview-jo-evershed-ceo-of-caulron-science/.
But when I graduated university, it was clear to me that developmental experimental psychologists were crippled by their tools. Until they could get their research online and at scale in a format that kids would engage with, progress would be constrained. We just cannot get the high quality data we need sufficiently fast to make impactful progress.
And this grew into a bigger idea: to create a powerful and easy-to-use behavioural research platform (Gorilla) so that behavioural scientists across the globe can create their experiments with ease and collect data at unprecedented pace and scale. I’ve written about this in more detail here: https://www.moneyonthemind.org/post/interview-with-jo-evershed.
With Gorilla, research that used to take months can now be done in a couple of days.
Like any good entrepreneur, I set a vision and some targets — and we’ve achieved them! The Gorilla platform is used across the world to help behavioural scientists measure human behaviour at scale. We have an amazing team of 10 people and over 300 universities using Gorilla. It’s been an adventure! In the last couple of years we’ve expanded Gorilla’s functionality so that it now supports multiplayer experiments, gamified experiments and shopping simulations. And so now, psychologists that study maths education can (and do!) create maths experiments and interventions that have been scientifically shown to work. Yay!
So, now I need a new Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). As the Cheshire Cat says, if you don’t know where you want to get to, it doesn’t much matter which way you go, does it?
But how do you find the time and space to create a new vision? Our lives are all so busy, and between running a company, 2 kids and ageing parents — I have very little space to just sit and think. I was musing on this problem while hurrying my kids into their coats to get them to school, when Bridget called and suggested I come to the Curiosity Incubator pilot programme.
I have a soft spot for serendipity, so I said yes!
And what a great decision that was.
Bridget had expertly crafted a series of sessions on a range of topics: Reimagining Innovation, Fundamental of Behavioural Design, How to Design for Good, Value Creation vs Profit Creation and the unWEIRDification of behavioural science.
From Reimagining Innovation, I was reminded how essential user research is in all aspects of product development. Not just the big decisions, but also the tiny barriers we can inadvertently put in people’s way.
From Fundamentals of Behavioural Design I was reminded how essential it is to design my life and work to make it easy for System 1 — our automatic decision based system — to succeed.
From Value Creation Vs Profit Creation I was reminded that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. As my coach says, your profit is just 10% of the value you create in the world and it allows you to continue creating more value for more people at a greater scale.
Mixed in with the lecture was time for reflection and discussion with some extraordinarily interesting people. And 24 hours later, I had a new Big Hairy Audacious Goal that I can aim for.
In 25 years, I’d like every organisation to have a Behavioural Science department — as intrinsic to its mission as Finance and HR are today.
Because this gives us another bottom line. Does the organisation deliver value to the humans it serves?
Capitalism has delivered a lot of value to the world. But it’s hard to escape the notion that we’ve created a world that’s good for money and not a world that’s good for humans. So many of the challenges we face need human solutions. Climate change. Obesity. Loneliness. Maths anxiety. Tax evasion. Littering. To name just a few.
These challenges need widespread collaboration and — in my opinion — a behavioural lens. That way, the potential solutions can be tested in different environments, and the most effective solution scaled.
So that’s my new focus:
- Accelerate groundbreaking research into human behaviour by equipping university researchers with Gorilla’s advanced research tools.
- Empower university teaching staff to train the next generation of behavioural researchers in experimental methods that prepare them for success in both academia and industry.
- Forge partnerships with industry and organisations to showcase the power of behavioural experiments and apply those insights to real-world challenges.
That’s what I took away from Bridget Gildea’s Curiosity Incubator — clarity of thought and a new mission. Wouldn’t it be amazing if across the board we collected behavioural data and made decisions based on data not ideology?
If you want to have a positive impact in the world, and your challenge involves humans, the Curiosity Incubator is a great way to give yourself the space to think differently about your challenge.