behavioural economics | November 01, 2016

Want a Happy Workplace? Learn the Fine Art of Cooperation with Yale’s David Rand

David Rand focuses on what makes individuals willing to pay costs—think time, energy, or resources—in order to create benefits for others. In other words, how do we explain cooperation, when, on the surface, it seems unnatural? And how do we further encourage it? 

When we cooperate with others, whether at work or in a personal setting, it is often at some immediate cost to ourselves. Why, then, do we do it? Wouldn’t we be better off making the more rational, self-interested decision? These are the questions that concern David Rand, a Yale psychology professor who heads the university’s Human Cooperation Laboratory.


Rand, who was named to WIRED’s Smart List of “50 people who will change the world,” argues that we cooperate because intuitively, we know it will benefit us in the long run; through experience, we have internalized cooperation. But in some instances, the longer we consider a decision, the more likely it is that “rationality”—i.e. selfishness—will take over.



We want our companies to perform to their highest possible standard, but employee self-interest often hampers this. But when cooperation becomes an office norm, businesses thrive. If we can align individual and organizational goals by incentivizing cooperation, Rand thinks, we can create productive, streamlined workplaces. In his talks, he explores this further: How do you create a culture of cooperation in your organization? How do you promote social engagement and accountability, all while maintaining the bottom line? 


Outside of the office, Rand’s findings have myriad applications as well—to education, innovation, healthcare, negotiation, and even public policy. Policymakers, for instance, often incentivize people with tax breaks and other monetary nudges. But to Rand, there are many zero-cost ways to push people in the right direction and drive social good. 


Rand’s work isn’t confined to academic circles. He’s written for The New York Times, WIRED, New Scientist, and The Psychological Observer, and has been featured in The Economist, Scientific American, The Washington Post, and Rolling Stone. He was chosen as a PopTech Science Fellow, and was awarded Yale’s Arthur Greer Memorial Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Publication or Research. If you’re interested in a more harmonious workplace—one where cooperation pervades and company goals are employee goals—book a David Rand keynote today.


To hire cooperation speaker David Rand to give a keynote at your next conference, contact The Lavin Agency, his exclusive speakers bureau.


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