A behavioural science April Fool with The Center For Advanced Hindsight – and knowing where to put the chalk cross

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The excellent behavioural scientists, Ingrid M. Paulin (@iwmelvaer) and Aline Holzwarth (@alineholzwarth), from The Center For Advanced Hindsight (@advncdhindsight) pulled off what looked like a trick, but was really an opportunity to present a serious behavioural science message.

April Fools

As part of a consortium of behavioral businesses and people, The Hunting Dynasty supported and helped shape a new online commitment device. You pledge an action you wish to stick to and it spits out a punishment for not doing it. Just like any regular commitment device.

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It was heavily promoted on April the 1st. But it wasn’t quite what it seemed…


The punishments for not sticking to a pledge were extremely severe – ludicrousy so. All this, on April the 1st? An obvious joke.

But there was as serious message in it.

Experts needed

The so-called ‘Ulysses Lab’ was a perfect – and purposeful – case of how not to design a commitment device.



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The message? To avoid terrible applications of behavioral science – such as the ‘Ulysses Lab’ – the world needs experts.


These days, more and more organizations are seeing the power of carefully applying behavioral science to solve their users’ problems. And while there is an increased demand for behavioral scientists, many companies give their employees a popular science book about behavioral science and expect them to be experts. That usually doesn’t work very well: It’s like having someone watch Grey’s Anatomy and then putting them in the operating room to perform surgery. Everyone is frustrated, especially the employees who’re trying to deliver behavioural ‘magic’.


It reminds me of the apocryphal story of the engineering consultant who spent hours observing a huge industrial machine of which no one could figure out where it was going wrong. Finally the consultant placed a chalk cross on the casing, saying: “Here, the problem’s in this part – take it off and replace it.”

He charged them $10,000.

The client scoffed at that bill, and asked for an itemised invoice. The consultant replied:

“$1 for the chalk, $9,999 for knowing where to put the chalk cross”.


Ignoring the obvious hyperbolic price in that story, behavioural science application is, really, knowing where to put the chalk cross. It’s never simpler for companies and organisations than using people who do this day-in-day-out – like us at The Hunting Dynasty. And if you’ve tried applying behavioural interventions and they didn’t work as cleanly as you’d expected it’s not a problem – it is only the Ulysses Lab that is too good to be true – the field of behavioural science is strong, healthy and continues to grow and support all aspects of an organisation’s needs, the world over.





The organizations and individuals involved (who work tirelessly to apply behavioral science around the world) are: Behavioral Science & Policy Association, Ogilvy Change, Busara, Hunting Dynasty, People Science, the Dishonesty Project, Action Design Network, Irrational Labs, BE Works, Joep Lange Institute, Science of People, FehrAdvice, Lemonade, Shapa, Dan Pink, Katy Milkman, Angela Duckworth, Charles Duhigg, Adam Grant, Francesca Gino, Andreas Staub, Michael Norton, David Pizarro, Robert Cialdini, Tim Harford, Paul Bloom, Leslie John, Peter McGraw, Vanessa Van Edwards, Yoel Inbar, Dean Karlan, Jonah Berger, Laurie Santos and Todd Rogers. These are all amazing, talented and fun people





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