Entrepreneurs have a powerful (and vastly overlooked) tool in behavioral research findings. "The library" of academic research equips you to create informed, effective solutions that impact people's lives in meaningful ways.

Disregarding existing knowledge from social and behavioral science is akin to stumbling around the dark. Academic literature can shed light on the problem you're tackling and its potential solutions.

Leverage the Library at Every Stage of Startup Development

You should take broad interest in how to use behavioral science to improve human behavior and build effective solutions. But depending on your stage of solution development, how should you approach the library? Here are three scenarios where it's useful to access the insight of existing research:

  1. If you have no clearly defined problem and no solution (you might be generating ideas)

  2. If you have a problem, but no optimal solution (you might be refining a solution), or

  3. If you have a problem and a developed solution (you might be implementing critical product changes or additions)

Scenario 1: If you have no clearly defined problem and no solution.  

Key Activity: Generating Ideas

Do This: Explore the Library to Inform Problems and Potential Solutions

The library is a wise tool in diagnosing problems and generating ideas. When you are beginning to dig into a problem, it's useful to explore the body of academic work relevant to the scope of the problem and its potential underlying causes. You can accelerate your learning, gain insight on the problem, and inspire ideas for potential solutions (or rule out ones that are evidently not viable) by looking into what research has already discovered.

Scenario 2: If you have a problem, but no optimal solution.

Key Activity: Refining a Solution

Do This: Leverage Research-backed Concepts to Break Down Barriers to Usage

If the success of your solution hinges on the user completing an integral behavior, then users are sure to encounter inherently behavioral challenges. As you iterate on an existing product (whether to create a smoother user experience or a solve a problem area) you can look to research-backed behavioral principles to implement within the solution to combat barriers your users encounter to the behavior you're aiming to drive.  

One example of this is leveraging defaults to eliminate friction. Research shows that people tend to stick to the path of least resistance. At decision points in a product, you can default choices for the user where appropriate to nudge towards options in their best interests, or the best interests of society.

In one study on organ donation in European countries, the percentage of consenting organ donors is drastically higher (between 85.9 and 99.98 percent) in countries that use an opt-out form, where being an organ donor is the defaulted choice, compared to countries where explicit opt-in consent requires people to check a box to become an organ donor. Defaults, a well-researched concept, can be a powerful way to eliminate barriers to good behavior in products and services.

Scenario 3: You have a problem and a developed solution.

Key Activity: Implementing Critical Product Changes

Do This: Look to the Literature to Inform Experimentation

Finally, when considering the right changes to make in critical, high-impact areas of an existing product or service, rigorous testing is often necessary to ensure that issues are addressed optimally. You can look to existing research to inform what changes to experiment with and the how to approach testing potential changes. You can explore what's been tried, tested, and true, and execute your own well-informed tests, rather than implementing a proposed change that may be ineffective.  

No matter your stage of development, it's never too early or too late to leverage behavioral science research to strengthen your approach to the problem and enhance the effectiveness of your solution.

Published on: May 4, 2018