Conference report: British Psychological Society’s (BPS) Psychology means business

Earlier this month I attended the British Psychological Society’s (BPS) Psychology means business conference in London. It was a day filled with excellent talks and fascinating insights. I have shared a few of the most interesting points here.

Behavioural science

Behavioural science was a big theme throughout the day – showing its increasing importance in the workplace, particularly in the area of consumer marketing. System 1 (unconscious) and System 2 (conscious) thinking were mentioned in almost every session. There were several useful references to the Cognitive Bias Codex and choice architecture. And there was an intelligent dismantling of some myths with an analysis of the causes and reasons for behaviour.

Behavioural change

Colin Strong of Ipsos presented a neat summary of the stages of a behavioural change project:

Stage 1

Identify the behaviour

1.     Define the problem in behavioural terms
2.     Select the target behaviour
3.     Specify the target behaviour
Stage 2

Identify the barriers

4.     Barriers to desired outcome
Stage 3

Identify intervention options

5.     Intervention functions
6.     Intervention delivery
Stage 4

Identify means of improvement

7.     Test impact of inventions on behaviours

8.     Refine interventions and retest

Digital distraction

Dr Duncan Brumby, a Human Computer Interface (HCI) expert at UCL, did an excellent talk on “Digitally distracted – managing multi-tasking” which looked at the impact of digital devices on life at work, home and the car. There was the startling statistic “People work for about three minutes on a task before switching” (Gonzalez and Mark, 2004). He talked about email interruptions and apps to help people increase their concentration.


Professor Nigel MacLennan of PsyPerform talked eloquently about innovation and demonstrated – through audience participation – how easy it was to encourage everyone to be creative with a simple forced association model and the stages:

  1. Choose direction
  2. Choose method
  3. Ask question

He argued that the more educated you are, the less creative you tend to be and that management of companies often stifles innovation (loved his description of “the Abominable No-Man”).  He argued that innovation requires: culture, systems, resources and techniques.

Mediation and negotiation

Dr Karl Mackie CBE, a psychologist and lawyer at CEDR (Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution), talked on negotiation behaviour and breaking deadlock – a topical subject in our current political climate.

He outlined his theoretical model and process framework for mediation:

  1. Confidential/without prejudice
  2. Authority to settle
  3. Document exchange
  4. Open sessions
  5. Private caucusing
  6. Bargaining
  7. Concluding – binding legal agreement?

 He also shared why mediation often surpasses sophisticated negotiator results and noted that the mediation process triggers greater space for reflection by calming and nudging the emotional impulse and allowing rationality. (The elephant, rider and path metaphor is described in detail in this book). He also noted that mediation avoided GroupThink, resets context and language and opens new perspectives.

Similar negotiation themes in negotiation are explored in this book.

Productivity through people management

Dr James Barr, OBP did an incredible job in this session. He showed how productivity underpins national wealth (and the UK’s trailing position behind the G7) and then went on an evidence-based journey to show the nine areas where psychology can increase productivity:

  1. Selection
  2. Motivation
  3. Leadership
  4. Culture
  5. Innovation
  6. Work design
  7. Team
  8. Training
  9. Mental health

He touched on goal setting theory (Locke & Latham) and the impact of performance related pay (PRP) – with up to 44% increases in productivity through a blend of fixed salary and performance pay.

He also mentioned – as several others speakers did – about the value of diversity and the difference between transactional and transformational leadership (individualised consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation and idealised influence). He also looked at the main causes of stress in the workplace.

The most interesting insight for me was from the insights into home working – Allowing people to choose to work from home (the sorting effect) increased productivity by 22%.

Business relationships

There were numerous ideas throughout the day that have an impact on business relationships. One that stood out was by Dr Catherine Janson-Boyd who talked about the impact of touch and haptics on perception and trust. She described an experiment which showed that peoples’ perception of a person changed depending on whether the ‘judger’ held a cup of hot coffee or a cup of iced coffee. (Williams & Bargh, 2008). She also explained:

  • Around 80% of our perception is accounted for by vision (Levine, 200)
  • Usually the visual input is the first to hit our sensory perception
  • Senses have the capacity to alter the way in which stimuli are perceived
  • Our knowledge is obtained from more than one sense (Heller, 1982)


Twitter @bps_lhc #psychologymeansbusiness