Katherine Milkman

Why are humans so bad at making good decisions? How can we nudge ourselves to do better?

Expert in Behavioral Economics; Associate Professor at The Wharton School at UPenn

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Katherine Milkman | Expert in Behavioral Economics; Associate Professor at The Wharton School at UPenn
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

How can we break bad habits and stick to tough goals? How do we learn self-control in an age of distraction? An expert in big data and behavioral economics, Katherine Milkman studies the ways we deviate from optimal choices—and how human decision-making can be improved. She offers accessible insights into how we can encourage good choices: in ourselves, our customers, and our employees.

Katherine Milkman has been named one of the world’s top 40 business school professors under 40 by Poets and Quants. She is an associate professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and holds a secondary appointment at UPenn’s Perelman School of Medicine. Her research uses big data to document the many ways individuals and groups deviate from making optimal decisions. In particular, she looks at what produces self-control failures and how to reduce them. (For self-control failures, think: undersaving for retirement, exercising too little, or eating too much junk food). Through her research, Milkman explores how to create wise choice architecture and nudge initiatives to guide customer and employee behavior in helpful directions.


Milkman is the recipient of an early career award from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences. She has published dozens of articles in social science journals that have reached a wide audience through op-eds in The New York Times and frequent coverage in such outlets as NPR, The Financial Times, and Forbes. Her work was also the focus of an entertaining Freakonomics podcast entitled, “When Willpower Isn’t Enough.” Milkman has received multiple excellence in teaching awards at Wharton, and was voted Wharton’s “Iron Prof” in 2013 by the school’s MBA students. She has worked with numerous companies on research and/or consulting, including the American Red Cross and Google.


“Katy was FANTASTIC! Our audience really enjoyed her content with our attendee survey giving her a 90% "top two" score, which is 90% of respondents gave her the highest or second-highest rating. In addition, Katy was a real pleasure to work with preparing for and at the event. I know our speaker manager was just raving about her. Please give my best to Katy and I hope we can work with The Lavin Agency again in the future.”

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Speech Topics

Behavioural Economics
Changing Behavior Guiding Employee and Customer Choices for Good

Employee and customer choices are heavily dependent on context. Katherine Milkman, an expert in the ways we consider options and make decisions, understands this from her extensive research studying these populations as a behavioral economist. ‘Choice architecture,’ or simply the way in which a choice is presented (on screens and in person) can thus be an extremely valuable tool for improving employee outcomes and consumer choices. 

In this informative keynote, Milkman teaches audiences how to make use of the malleability in how choices are made to influence behavior for the better, providing insights about how to encourage improved decisions—online, at work, and at home. Covering the basics of wise choice architecture, nudges that have been proven to increase the likelihood of optimal decisions, and actionable takeaways tailored for your business or organization, Milkman leads a funny, fast-paced, and practical talk about how we can guide employee and customer behavior in the most helpful ways possible.

Behavioural Economics
Decision Biases Improving the Quality of Our Everyday Decisions

In a perfect world, people would always make perfect decisions. But we’re far from perfect: biases, irrational assumptions, and other overriding impulses make our decision-making processes fraught at best. Over the past 30 years, psychologists and economists have joined forces to study how people process information and actually make decisions, rather than how people would make decisions if they were fully rational and without bias. This research program—dubbed behavioral economics—has given us a deeper understanding of how decisions deviate from optimal choices, as well as the (sometimes grave!) consequences of such deviations. Put plainly, people are poor intuitive statisticians, and that means when they ‘just think’ about situations in which some data or casual observations exist, they tend to make serious inferential errors—and systematically biased decisions. 

Throughout this engaging keynote, Katherine Milkman discusses the most common errors we make, with particularly important implications for managerial and workplace settings. Using evidence-based examples, she introduces a number of common decision biases that influence managers, employees and consumers alike. She can then discuss the best research-based strategies we can use to avoid these biases. With her guidance, we can improve our awareness of situations where business biases are likely to arise, and thereby improve the quality of the decisions we make.