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Behavioral Thinking’s Ancestry: A Timeline of History and Purpose

Roy Bendor Cohen
March 9, 2021

In life, moving from point A to point B rarely happens by way of one route. In the same vein, Behavioral Thinking has evolved by way of multiple and important histories.

Let’s take a look at how this framework has come to be and its innate reliance on interdisciplinarity.

3 Brief, But Important Backgrounds

Design Thinking (DT) was born in San Francisco in 1978, when IDEO was founded. Since its birth, it has focused on Human-Centered Design. DT is associated with the d.school in Stanford. Throughout the years, it has been nurtured by designers around the world. Key figures include Tim Brown, Tom Kelley, Don Norman, among others.

Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) is an innovation methodology that was developed in Israel during the 1990s and is attributed to scholars Jacob Goldenberg, Roni Horowitz and Ginadi Filkovsky. In 1995, Amnon Levav (along Goldenberg, Horowitz and others) co-founded the company by the same name, SIT. The roots of this method can be traced as far back as the Soviet Union and is based on TRIZ (a Russian acronym for the Theory of Inventive Problem-Solving), which was invented by Soviet engineer and patent clerk Genrich Altschuler.

Today, the company SIT helps to execute the practice beyond the walls of academia and in more than 70 countries around the world.

Behavioral Insights (BI) came to be in London in 2010 when the Behavioural Insight Team (BIT) was established within the UK Cabinet Office, two years after Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s coined the terms “Nudge” and “Choice Architecture” in their famous book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness. Although it was "officially" born in the UK, it’s possible to trace its ancestry from all over the world, including Israel and the US (where Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky pioneered Behavioral Economics).

Different Roots, Same Purpose

It’s clear to see that each one of these approaches has its own unique history, nurtured within its respective ecosystem. DT, SIT and BI were developed mainly by designers, engineers and behavioral scientists, respectively. The problems they seek to solve are also focused on distinct areas (i.e. in the case of BI, it is traditionally applied in government and policy).

Thanks to its genealogical tree and founding, each discipline maintains its own set of nuances. These nuances are, by analogy, the glasses with different filters from which each expert views the problem or situation presented.

For example, BI is focusing on evidence-based interventions, often using Random Controlled Trials (RCTs) to assess and evaluate its effectiveness and impact. Practitioners in this field draw on existing literature from behavioral sciences.

SIT has strong ideation tools that help people overcome cognitive fixedness (a sub-group of cognitive biases) in order to generate innovative (new, valuable and feasible) solutions - the kind where you find yourself asking,

“How didn’t I think of this before?!”

As a user-centric design approach, DT places emphasis on elements such as empathy, prototyping and iteration. It focuses on qualitative methods, such as ethnographic research, that include in-depth interviews and observations.

The Birth and Beauty of Behavioral Thinking

I argue that these three approaches share more in common than they differ, since they’re all methods for solving complex problems to create a better world by moving beyond assumptions.

Each method has proven its relevance. Now, it is time for an interdisciplinary approach that can be thought of as the next evolution of these fields—one that is designed to meet 21st century challenges.

Here, I introduce the term and framework of Behavioral Thinking.

Inheriting its name from its three ancestors, Behavioral Thinking is an interdisciplinary approach that distills the best of all worlds. It is practical and empirical. It’s about what works.

At Q Behavioral Thinking, we join forces to bring together a team of experts with unique perspectives from each of the aforementioned fields (plus others not mentioned in this article, like: Systems Thinking, Future Scenarios and “classic” strategic consulting methods). This collaboration of minds and expertise is fruitful (although by no means an easy task).

By combining the nuances of each approach, we are able to answer challenging businesses questions, fill in gaps of missing information and help organizations overcome strategic hurdles.

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