What doctors and behavioral scientists have in common

When I’m feeling particularly fanciful, I like to think of myself as a less charming House M.D.

Instead of staring into a Macbook and going through graphs in Tableau or Mixpanel, I imagine I’m looking at the charts of a particularly challenging patient—trying to figure out what’s *really* going on.

While you may think this is a strange comparison, the job of an applied behavioral scientist is more doctor-like than you’d think.

On many projects, it’s our job to make a proper diagnosis of the behavioral problem and then determine the most effective intervention.

The same way doctors have a standard approach to assessing a patient, we have a standard way of assessing a behavior-change problem:

  • Take the vitals (collect & look at the numbers)
  • Observe the patient (ethnography / customer observation)
  • Ask some questions (customer interviewing)
  • Develop hypotheses (based on an understanding of the science & past experience)
  • Prescribe a probable solution
  • Observe results
  • Repeat the process if the problem isn’t resolved

Like a challenging patient, some particularly stubborn behavior problems may require a few rounds of treatment (and sometimes major surgery); but that’s the iterative nature of the diagnostic process.

So the next time you’re working on figuring out a really tricky behavior problem, sit down, close your eyes, and channel your inner House. The patient will thank you for it.



Jason Hreha