888. A Day in the Life: What's It Really Like to Be a Behavioral Scientist?
Kurt Nelson, PhD
“What’s really fascinating about behavioral science is that it’s a combination of a number of specific fields. Behavioral science takes psychology, sociology, economics, behavioral economics and anthropology and brings all the insights around anything that has to deal with why people think or do or act the way they do. It’s a concept of trying to understand what are those underpinnings of human thought and human behavior.”
Kurt Nelson is a sought-after consultant, speaker and recognized leader in human motivation and behavior change. For over 20 years, he has worked with global companies to apply behavioral science principles to drive change in their organizations. He is founder and president of The Lantern Group, a behavioral design and communication agency. He also is the co-founder, with Tim Houlihan, of the Behavioral Grooves podcast, where they interview leading academic and business executives from around the world and explore how they apply behavioral science to their work and lives. All his work focuses on understanding ways to positively influence how people behave. Kurt has his MBA from the University of Iowa and his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Capella University.
The Most Impactful Turning Point?
After I received my MBA I got my first job as a marketing coordinator for a highly regarded company in Minnesota: BI Worldwide, which builds incentive and recognition programs for employees to motivate them and keep them engaged. I realized that this role was not my cup of tea and after 18 months I was ready to move on. Then I happened upon an opportunity with this small group of IO psychologists and other professionals within the company who were focused on leadership, employee and team development and experiential learning. I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to work with this team, first part-time and then full time. Because I’ve always been fascinated in understanding why people do what they do, I was now in a position to work with top professionals and learn the ropes working with C-level executives on strategy, how to facilitate sessions and much more. That experience was the foundation from which I launched my own company in 1997.
The Most Powerful Lessons and Experiences?
1. I worked part-time as a soda-jerk at a family-owned business called Whitey’s Ice Cream while I was at the University of Iowa. The owners were always there and were open to conversations about various aspects of running a business—I learned a lot of worthwhile business basics from those good people.
2. One important serendipitous event in my life was the inheritance my grandfather left me when he passed away—$10,000—which allowed me to return to the University of Iowa and get my MBA. This was an important catalyst for my career.
3. Other than my grandfather, who owned his own farm, no members of my family were entrepreneurs. They all worked for somebody else, so I had no modeling, if you will. That all changed when I became engaged to my wife—her parents, other family members and many friends were entrepreneurs. Their examples inspired me and gave me the courage to step out on my own when the time was right.
4. Not only were my four years at BI Worldwide the starting point for my fascination and passion for personal development in all its parts, but one week after I left to start my own company—The Lantern Group—they hired my new firm to work on a project. To this day BI Worldwide is one of our biggest and best clients. I’m quite proud of that.
5. I finally got my Ph.D. in 2010 in organizational development. For as long as I can remember I have been utterly fascinated with understanding why people do what they do, starting with my work at BI Worldwide and continuing with the work that my firm does today.
On His Bookshelf
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
Connecting With Kurt Nelson, PhD
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