Learn More About Cass Sunstein
How do leaders bring about change? How do you motivate employees and influence customers in positive directions? How can an organization best utilize artificial intelligence to support decision-making and good judgement?
According to Cass Sunstein, the Harvard Law Professor who is widely recognized for his expertise on persuasion and influence, each of these seemingly unrelated questions can be answered through a deep understanding of human behavior.
“Why study behavior?” Sunstein asks. “It’s too weak to say the science of understanding the characteristics we all share is merely interesting. Core commonalities, like how people dislike losses more than they like gains or why people all over the world make the same mistakes about risk, are at the core of our species – and understanding the ‘why’ behind them is really fun.”
Co-author of the international bestseller “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” with Richard Thaler, Sunstein has become world renowned for his key insights into decision-making processes. His practical recommendations for convincing individuals to make better choices, without them even knowing it, forever changed the way leaders everywhere approach transition.
After decades of research into the science behind the choices people make, Sunstein brings leaders and organizations frameworks, methodologies and strategies for achieving better management with established behavioral economics and science principles. Gifted with a quirky sense of humor, Sunstein’s talks, keynotes and advisory sessions use accessible metaphors and references to bring academic concepts to a practical level, leaving teams with recommendations they can put into practice the very next day.
His guidance is relied upon by organizations and governments around the world as they seek reliable theories on influencing populations in positive ways, even during uncertain times. This has dramatic effects on employee engagement and retention, as well as significant impacts to a brand’s bottom line as customers gravitate toward enjoyable products and services.
When Considering AI, Understand What It Can and Cannot Do
A renowned legal scholar, Sunstein has lately turned his discerning mind to the use of algorithms in society and how it can be used to improve human judgement. Using vivid examples of real-world applications of AI, he shows businesses and organizations how they can understand – and even increase – their risk tolerance with AI, so they can take advantage of these tools for themselves.
“For businesses, algorithms can be a phenomenal boon – they reduce cognitive bias and noise, counteract overreactions to current events and balance out a tendency to short-term bias and optimism,” Sunstein explains. “What’s also interesting is what algorithms can’t do, like predict romantic attraction or if a joke will land. Those are complex systems based on social interactions and an algorithm can’t yet predict that.”
Having written a number of papers with computer scientists over his years of research to inform his knowledge of artificial intelligence, Sunstein points out that generative AI is exceptionally “noisy,” and it makes a lot of mistakes. However, despite being prone to error, Sunstein points out that these algorithms can state probabilities in some areas, as in predicting bestselling books or even the likelihood of revolution in some countries.
In his talks, Sunstein brings leaders, teams and organizations a curious, even humorous, eye to AI. Through references to everything from science fiction to “Star Wars,” he shares an easily understood breakdown of what artificial intelligence algorithms are, their current capabilities and how organizations and governments should consider them from a legal perspective.
A Framework for Change: The Incredible Influence of Fun in Decision-Making
Organizations have invested millions to influence their customers and employees, but sometimes find their efforts don’t net the results they’re expecting. Sunstein says there’s another angle business leaders can try: his noteworthy FEAST framework presents leaders with a streamlined methodology for driving individuals to take a desired action that benefits themselves and the organization.
“There’s increasing research showing that if people find it fun to do something, then they’re going to do it, even if it’s a departure from what they’re used to,” asserts Sunstein. “If people are having fun with their job, that can increase productivity and increase effectiveness… That’s good for business. It makes people more motivated, makes people feel respected and it makes people really want to work there.”
Sunstein argues that initiatives should be (i) Fun – an essential element of choice (ii) Easy – with clear, simple messages; (iii) Attractive – drawing the recipient’s attention; (iv) Social – leveraging social norms to encourage desired behaviors; and (v) Timely – messages need to hit the mark at the right moment.
Emphasizing that ease can be a function of customer experience, the FEAST framework is especially valuable for leadership, brand management and marketing teams, as it provides an actionable path for influencing buying decisions, enhancing customer experiences, and making choice not just about the product or service, but also the enjoyment it brings.
“The difference between Pepsi Max and Diet Pepsi, the difference between delicious colorful vegetables and healthy vegetables, the difference between frustration-free packaging and green packaging… These are targeting some action or product and associating it with something in the vicinity of fun,” he elaborates. “That can be a great motivator of behavior change. When people think X is more fun than Y, the choice of X is starting to look better.”
Whether it’s altering consumer choices, enhancing employee experiences or making sense of algorithms, Sunstein proves that understanding human behavior is not just a study — it’s the master key to influence, persuasion, change and the art of thriving in an AI-integrated world.
Currently the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard, Cass Sunstein is world-renowned for his work unpacking essential behavioral economics principles. He is the founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy at Harvard Law School. In 2018, he received the Holberg Prize from the government of Norway, which is sometimes described as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for law and the humanities.
In 2020, the World Health Organization appointed Sunstein as chair of its technical advisory group on Behavioural Insights and Sciences for Health. From 2009 to 2012, he was administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and after that, he served on the President’s Review Board on Intelligence and Communications Technologies and on the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Board. Sunstein has testified before congressional committees on many subjects, and he has advised officials at the United Nations, the European Commission, the World Bank and many nations on issues of law and public policy. He serves as an advisor to the Behavioural Insights Team in the United Kingdom.
Sunstein’s latest and upcoming books include “How to Interpret the Constitution” (Princeton University Press, August 2023), “Decisions About Decisions: Practical Reason in Ordinary Life” (Cambridge University Press, Upcoming 2023), “Default Nudges: From People’s Experiences to Policymaking Implications” (Palgrave Macmillan, January 2023), “Bounded Rationality: Heuristics, Judgment, and Public Policy” (MIT Press, July 2022), “Nudge: The Final Edition” (Yale University Press, September 2021), “Sludge: What Stops Us from Getting Things Done and What to Do About It” (MIT Press, September 2021), “Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment (Little, Brown Spark, May 2021) – which won the 2021 getAbstract International Book Award – “Averting Catastrophe: Decision Theory for COVID-19, Climate Change, and Potential Disasters of All Kinds” (NYU Press, April 2021), “Liars: Falsehoods and Free Speech in an Age of Deception” (Oxford University Press, March 2021), “This Is Not Normal: The Politics of Everyday Expectations” (Yale University Press, February 2021), and “Too Much Information” (The MIT Press, September 2020). His earlier books, “Simpler: The Future of Government” and “Republic.com,” received high praise.
A frequent adviser to governments all over the world and a columnist for Bloomberg View, Sunstein is married to the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.
Cass Sunstein is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.