Cowry's 2 Minute Digest - On Humility

Azim Arsiwala • 2 min read
True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing." -Socrates

The edge.

We believe it’s a true pleasure to be able to be able to work on the absolute bleeding edge of social science, that is, to work in the field of behavioural science & economics. The nascent subject has transformed how insights & intervention design is done in several industries (Public policy, Insurance, CX/UX and more). Moreover, it’s an exciting avenue where we are consistently finding new frontiers in terms of research as well as application to grow and expand.

However, there is a worrying trend in the industry. A lack of acknowledgment that it is indeed a nascent field, that is growing, maturing & evolving.

The social subject.

Social sciences is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a SOCIAL science.

There aren’t perfect answers, no precise solutions. Humans and society are volatile, changing and evolving. So are the theories. Unlike Physics where E = MC square, which is true in London, Tokyo or the 11th planet of the Temecula Galaxy 7000 light years away, a theory of social science generally needs to be tested to ensure replicability the moment you change the area of application.

Moreover, the recent replication crisis in social sciences drew dramatic criticism on several well-regarded theories, and many fundamental assumptions were called into concern. Many changes were made in the academic world, such as stricter requirements for pre registration, and alternative hypothesis testings (Bayes Theorem, etc).

The humility factor.

It’s important for academic behavioural scientists to acknowledge their shortcomings. However, It’s perhaps more important that we, as applied practitioners, do as well.

“It’s not a bug, it’s a feature” - a common saying among programmers when an unintended piece of code delivers an enhanced user experience that was not intended.

We at Cowry think in the world of social science, change of theories and changes to applications is not a bug, it’s a feature. It’s important that we stay humble & acknowledge these “features”, instead of treating them as bugs and trying to hide their existence.

So why is the immaturity of the field a “feature”? Because constant changes enable us to stay relevant, and ever changing. While changes in standard fields take some time to happen (when was the last time the theory on inflation was updated?) theories in social science are constantly updating themselves.

Humility to disbar outdated research brings us courage to apply new frontiers of science, knowing that if we ever mis-step we are able to know right from wrong.

The final frontier

Does this mean that current theories are mostly incorrect?

Far from it. A multitude of behavioural economics firms are successfully applying principles and creating revolutionary change for our clients. We research new theories, acknowledge when some theories are now outdated, and replace them. We celebrate others who do the same, and encourage those who don’t to start now.

Does this mean that there is no final frontier, i.e. no stable, lasting theories?

No! It’s the opposite, this means that there are no unstable theories that last the test of time.There are many theories since inception that have not changed, their impact has been replicated across cultures. Acceptance, and humility allows us to to weed out theories that are outdated. At Cowry, this is why it’s so important for us to test, learn and update our theories. What works for one client, doesn’t necessitate success for the others. We tailor our experience towards each client, by constantly refining and updating our approach, this way we ensure we give each client the most scientifically rigorous solutions possible through behavioural science.




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