“I Would Like To Make Critical Thinking Cool” With Jeff Kreisler, Editor-In-Chief of PeopleScience

“I would like to make critical thinking cool. I wish we — individuals, organizations and communities — would stop and think about our…


“I would like to make critical thinking cool.
I wish we — individuals, organizations and communities — would stop and think about our decisions, our biases and, most importantly, our long-term future selves as much, or more than, our present desires, immediate temptations, and emotional needs.
I don’t believe we can change human nature, but I do believe we can understand human nature enough to create systems and environments so that we take advantage of human nature instead of others using it to take advantage of us.
I’d also like low carb, vegan ice cream that actually tasted good and would make me taller.”

I had the pleasure to interview Jeff Kreisler, Editor-In-Chief of PeopleScience. Jeff is the bestselling author — with Dan Ariely — of Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter. Listed as one of the top business books of 2017 by, among others, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Audible and The Washington Post — who called it “a brilliant and accessible look at behavioral economics” — Jeff is also a financial columnist (TheStreet.com), recovering attorney (Princeton, Virginia Law), award-winning comedian (“Laugh out loud, roaring” — CNBC, “Hilarious” — Chicago Tribune, “Delectable” — New York Times) and on-air pundit for MSNBC, CNN Headline News, FoxNews and Sirius/XM.

Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?

Before making it “big” — well, before making “here” — I went to Princeton (degrees in Russian Studies, Politics and Economics), then I went to University of Virginia law school, then I went to Burning Man two or maybe five times and, well, here we are.

Somewhere in the middle of that, I moved to San Francisco, became a stand up comedian focused on political absurdism, won a cool award for the same, moved to NYC, and got a column writing business and finance humor for Jim Cramer’s TheStreet.com. That led to my first book, the satire “Get Rich Cheating,” which I turned into a one-man show (a satirical wealth building seminar) and a regular segment on MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan Show.

Dan Ariely — author of “Predictably Irrational,” got a copy and invited me to speak to his Duke University Graduate Business students — in character. So, I told them to cheat, cost/benefit analysis, no cost — no one gets caught — lots of benefits — enough money to eat endless Faberge Egg omelets. Some of those MBAs agreed… and that was my light bulb moment.

I discovered the work of Dan and his Behavioral Economics colleagues and everything clicked. Traditional economics, law, constitutionalism, comedy, politics, cheating: These were all areas which could benefit from, or be explained by, behavioral economics, the study of why we humans do the irrational, illogical, counter-productive things that we do.

I began working with Dan — while still doing political comedy, cheating commentary, writing for and appearing on TV, etc. — and became a believer in the potential of behavioral science. We wrote a book together — “Dollars and Sense: Why We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter” (HarperCollins US and 21 countries worldwide!) — and now I run a thought-leadership platform, PeopleScience.com, dedicated to the opportunities and challenges of applying behavioral insights to the modern marketplace.

It’s pretty exciting.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I pitched a follow-up to “Get Rich Cheating” in which someone who’d gotten rich cheating ran for US President on a platform of encouraging everyone to cheat, praying on fear and greed, and glorifying money and corruption as the keys to winning. One of the proposed titles of the book was “Blowhard.”

I was told it was too unrealistic.

(It was also poorly written, which was the real issue, but I do think about how I was told that a blowhard, corrupt cheater running for President was a stretch. I think about that every day).

Can you share some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

PeopleScience.com, by far.

We’re in this fascinating moment for behavioral science where more and more leaders are taking a look at behavioral science and trying to figure out what it can do for them and for the world. It’s a — dare I say? — tipping point.

There are books and TED talks and government nudges and now big businesses are starting to embrace behavioral principles, not just for marketing and design — which are the early adopters — but for employee engagement and purpose, incentives, motivation and changing people’s lives for the better.

I’m really excited to be part of this moment, to make these ideas accessible and applicable, to amplify important voices and help guide this conversation.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Oh wow, I don’t think my fingers could hold up typing everything. Short versions:

Writing for former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, both on her TV show and for her 2012 Democratic Convention speech… and then watching that speech blow up on both the left and the right. It was all her and her passion that made it take off and it was great to help facilitate her opportunity.

Dan Ariely, a knowledgeable, thoughtful and relentlessly giving person who’s very conscious of using his influence to further the cause of improving lives.

Almost everyone working in behavioral science — especially the researchers — have been fascinating, open, creative and, yes, funny.

Working with at-risk youth, kids who’d had some contact with the justice system, but were all great, creative, emotionally intelligent kids who, by structure of “the system,” found themselves walking a tightrope between pursuing their purpose and becoming a statistic.

An attorney working on the death penalty appeal for the West Memphis Three. Seeing how he paced himself for an emotionally fraught years long battle.

Asking Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller advice about working together as a creative couple (my S.O. and I were doing so).

Working with Tony Hendra (Spinal Tap / National Lampoon) a lot and Terry Jones (Monty Python) a teeny tiny touch — being connected to an era I revered.

Countless standups who’ve risen the highest ranks and who shared a ride, a meal of just a stage with me along the way. Legitimately happy for all of them. Well, all but one. ;)

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in journalism?

Be strong, be brave, be flexible, be kind.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I think I’ve used humor — as well as research and patience — to make challenging topics accessible, even enjoyable, for everyone, not just the high priests of TED, NPR and the Bar Association. From politics, law and the Constitution to finance, emotions, irrationality, cheating and how we think about money, I like to delude myself into believing I’ve brought more people into the important conversations for their lives.

I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?

Scotch and delusion. Also, a deep desire to eradicate ignorance, hypocrisy and self-deception. (Like I said, scotch and delusion.)

Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

“Welcome to the Monkey House,” by Kurt Vonnegut.

I could name any of his other works, or books like “Ragtime” and “Things Fall Apart,” but there’s something about this collection of short stories that’s inspirational an informative. His novels are, obviously, IMHO, great, but “Monkey House” is a collection that shows how he focused and refined his skills. It’s less overtly biting than his longer work, but no less full of commentary. On the surface, the stories feel simple, but upon re-reading I sense how much care went into every passage and I imagine he must’ve labored over cutting all the other things he wanted to say in each in order to maintain his focus.

As a writer, I find it to be his most instructive work like watching someone master the scales before playing concerts of jazz.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would like to make critical thinking cool.

I wish we — individuals, organizations and communities — would stop and think about our decisions, our biases and, most importantly, our long-term future selves as much, or more than, our present desires, immediate temptations, and emotional needs.

I don’t believe we can change human nature, but I do believe we can understand human nature enough to create systems and environments so that we take advantage of human nature instead of others using it to take advantage of us.

I’d also like low carb, vegan ice cream that actually tasted good and would make me taller.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Don’t worry about the perceived pace of your peers’ advancement. There’s no linear route to “success,” so just hone your craft, your voice and your vision. Learn from and champion your colleagues, but don’t give envy any oxygen.

That said, networking does matter. Ugh. You need talent and hard work, oh yeah — most who’ve gotten breaks only through schmoozing inevitably fail (I hope) — but talent alone is not enough. Don’t become obsessed or jealous, but carve out a little energy to get to know your industry and peers.

Read things from outside your comfort zone, genre and interests. You’ll learn everything there.

Remember that you didn’t pass up a “regular” career path just to become a “regular” writer. Keep pushing yourself to be special.

Carry around a notepad, pen and voice recorder, get a reliable transcription service and, for the love of all that’s good, don’t leave that box of 40 cassettes from your cross-country-drive-inspired ramblings in the crawlspace during Hurricane Sandy. Damnit.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.

I could make it work with any number of people.

Jeff Bezos — How can I help you use your influence, passion for experimentation and insight into human behavior to improve lives?

Elizabeth Warren — How can I help the cause of fighting for consumers and the underrepresented against those guided by financial might and incentive?

Ellen DeGeneres — How have you used humor and accessibility and kindness to share meaning and insight… and can I join you? ;)

Tom Brady — Fist bump, dawg.

Donald Trump — It’s not your fault.

Originally published at medium.com

humor, Inspiration

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