Getting to the Brainy Business of School Change with Melina Palmer
May 4, 2021
behavioral economics

Behavioral economics is the psychology of why people buy. It examines how people make decisions, understand what those decisions mean about your thought process, and ultimately tells us why someone makes a purchase. It is the true crossroads between economics, neuroscience, and psychology. 

But what happens when we are “selling” a new idea—a new paradigm for our educational system and the future of our youth? How do we get people to buy in?

On today’s podcast, I’m speaking with Melina Palmer, the founder and CEO of The Brainy Business, which provides behavioral economics consulting to businesses of all sizes from around the world. We are examining why going against the grain goes against our biology, why it’s hard to incite change in others, and what we can do about it.

I’m also thrilled to announce that this is the one-year anniversary of the Education Evolution podcast! Thank you for taking this journey with me to shake up the status quo in today’s educational system.

About Melina Palmer:

Melina Palmer is the founder and CEO of The Brainy Business, which provides behavioral economics consulting to businesses of all sizes worldwide. Her podcast, The Brainy Business: Understanding the Psychology of Why People Buy, has downloads in over 160 countries and is used as a resource for teaching applied behavioral economics for many universities and businesses. 

Melina obtained her bachelor’s degree in business administration / marketing and worked in corporate marketing and brand strategy for over a decade before earning her master’s in behavioral economics. 

A proud member of the Global Association of Applied Behavioral Scientists, Melina has contributed research to the Association for Consumer Research, Filene Research Institute, and runs the Behavioral Economics & Business column for Inc. Magazine. She teaches applied behavioral economics through the Texas A&M Human Behavior Lab and her first book, What Your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You, comes out next week.

Follow Melina on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Jump in the Conversation

  • [4:05] Our brain’s familiarity bias and herding instincts slow school change
  • [11:15] The HUGE role of the subconscious brain
  • [17:48] Identifying hang-ups and hold-ups to sell an idea
  • [21:05] Using metaphor to unpack subconscious fears
  • [23:09] Understanding and addressing motivations
  • [43:10] Melina’s Magic Wand: Schools nurturing curiosity (vs teaching kids out of it)
  • [45:37] Maureen’s Take-Aways

Links and Resources:

Thanks for listening! Don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Android. If you like what you heard, please leave a review on iTunes and share what you liked about the show.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:03  

Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present-day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host, and founder of education, evolution, and the micro-school coalition, where we are fiercely committed to changing the narrative to reimagining the education landscape and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:50  

If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around awhile, have you left a review?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:08  

Hi, Melina, it is so good to have you on our podcast.


Melina Palmer  1:11  

Yeah, thanks so much for having me.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:14  

And listeners. Today I’m chatting with Melina Palmer. She’s the founder and CEO of the award-winning business and podcast, The Brainy Business. Melina applies behavioral economics to help us understand the psychology of why people buy. Her podcast is used as a resource for teaching behavioral economics in many universities and businesses. And today, we’re going to apply this neuroscience to education. This is my one-year anniversary podcast!


Melina Palmer  1:45  



Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:48  

And when I began planning to start this podcast, I had no idea what to do. I’d known Melina for years, and the quality and content of her podcast were an inspiration to me. She was the first person I reached out to for guidance as education evolution was being formed. So it’s a pleasure to have my friend and mentor, as our guest, as I celebrate the one-year anniversary of Education Evolution.


Melina Palmer  2:14  

Yeah, honored to be here.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  2:18  

Melina, let’s start with what you just tell us what the heck is behavioral economics?


Melina Palmer  2:24  

Yes. And usually, I would say no, it sounds like for some people, maybe it’s like, kind of boring, or whatever. I feel like in an education podcast people like Whoo, what’s that? Right. So essentially, it is the psychology of why people buy. And on a deeper level, behavioral economics is part of a larger field of behavioral science, which is rooted in understanding what’s actually happening in the brain, how people make decisions. And then what I do as an applied behavioral economist is helping people to understand what that means, and then start using those insights from the brain to communicate better with others to I do a lot of work with businesses in a corporate setting. And so how do you price things? How do you work better when you’re presenting change to your teams? How do you work on brand strategy and things like that, that are going to work with the brain instead of what we think people should do, which is not the world that we live in? So yeah, it’s a mash-up of economics, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, you know, a lot of different disciplines that came together to help understand the brain better.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  3:41  

Wow, impressive and cool. It actually is more interesting than the title, the title is a little daunting.


Melina Palmer  3:48  

Yes, we suffer from bad branding that someone else set up. An economist chose our behavioral economics moniker that we’re kind of stuck with now.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  4:00  

How do you think this behavioral economics lens could help us get folks to buy a new paradigm of education to replace the outdated institution?


Melina Palmer  4:11  

I love that you phrase it in that way. And I know that you know, from listening to my own podcasts, and just the conversations we’ve had over the years that like to me when I talk about change management, you know, people think, Well, I’m not selling anything, it’s not the same thing. But you are still needing to sell an idea that you want others to buy in on and to do something, even if money’s not exchanging hands. And so when it comes to something like a big paradigm shift, and education, something we all had when we were kids, you have a lot of different things that are working against you in that we prefer the status quo. We have a bias toward things that we’re familiar with. And we are a herding species. So seeing that everyone else Still doing something the same way. And you kind of have that like, well, it can’t be that bad. We turned out okay sort of philosophy to things, it can be difficult to overcome that process. But knowing that there are people out there that if you tell the story in a little bit of a different way if you can trigger some different concepts of what’s happening within the brain, you can help to better communicate, and get people to try something different when you work with those other concepts to help overcome the ones that are kind of working against you with that status quo.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  5:41  

Absolutely, that makes sense. So, to me, I know at a logical level, I look at education. And you so much has changed in my lifetime, your phones, rotary phones on the wall, I mean, snail mail so much, but not the school model, it still feels like we’re this assembly line from over 100 years ago. So when you’re a certain age kid, you’re required to learn the same stuff at the same pace, whether it’s too fast, too slow, irrelevant. Today, summers are still taken off, even though this means a loss and learning and we know we spend September trying to get kids back into routine and recover from that loss. Your teachers a lot of times to lecture success is still defined by how well students memorize and write out answers not if they can apply them or demonstrate them in a different way. So why are schools and institutions in general, so much slower to change than other parts of our lives?


Melina Palmer  6:40  

I think it has to do with again, the that there are so many that are doing it this old way. And when you have regulatory setups, where you know this is part of the maybe a question that’s coming. But when you look at standardized tests, and what is looked at for college applications, and you know, when you’re planning ahead, you’re planning for what’s coming, you know, right down the line, right? So it’s in elementary school, it’s getting to the next grade level, and then it’s to do well in junior high, and then it’s to do well in high school and college applications. And then you kind of think, well, then they’re on their own when they go into the working world, right, they’ll figure it out. And that’s the way we’ve always done things. So I think that instead, you know, trying to change up a process where it feels like, well, if I have to do if I’m just one of these, like 1000s of 1000s and 1000s, and 1000s of other schools, and if we do something different, and no one else does, it’s like hard to get that snowball rolling and feels like you might be putting your students at a detriment if you are one of the first ones. And no one else adopts a model. And so it’s easy to say, you know until everybody else is ready, I can sit on the sidelines, I actually saw this my a lot of my background is in financial institutions. And I spent years and years and years and years going to conferences, and hearing everybody talk about how it was gonna be, you know, the issues of the tap to pay with your phones, things like that. 


Melina Palmer  8:29  

But is this like, we just need to get ahead of it. But we need to see, and until you know, Apple does something or someone comes out with theirs. We just can’t do enough. But we’re we’ll be ready. When they do it will be ready to go. And then when Apple card came out, something that everybody been talking about same is gonna happen, that’s when it’s going to change. None of those plans were made for what to do when an Apple card comes, it comes. And then everybody says, well, we’ll wait and see if anyone actually adopts it. And then we’ll come up with our plan of what we’re going to do. So we can be fast followers. That is a bad strategy. But it’s built-in how our brains are wired. So knowing that this happens in a corporate type of setting, as well. But there were other financial institutions that did something a little bit different that already had some mobile options, and we see fintech and things that are popping up. So there is a possibility to look at things differently and start your own movement, your own process to say, there’s a better way and we can do this and we can look at something and get you know cohort that’s going to just make it happen. It’s definitely possible. If you can tell a good story about why it matters. That’s how you can drive people to make decisions and to work with you.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  9:54  

So, I guess I thought and I’m learning so much more as I interview all have these wonderful educational innovators, I guess I thought that people were experiencing some good stories because I know it’s not logical that I understand that when we feel something when we’re connected to the emotions, but like, I hear parents, they come to me and say, Hey, I need a different school for my kid, this isn’t working, and there’s anxiety or bullying, or piles of homework, depression, and then they end up getting sucked back in. But you know, this is where my friends’ kids are, this is what I did, my or my husband or wife wants traditionally, and so they’re feeling the pain of their kid or a business leader. They’re at the Business Roundtable. And they’re saying, Oh, we are never doing away with standardized tests, because anything else like project-based and competency learning and, and whatnot, that would be lowering the bar. But that same business leader is feeling the pain and complaining to friends, the kids that are graduating today aren’t ready to work in my business. And it’s costing me they don’t have these life skills, they don’t have these people skills. So parents and business leaders are feeling the pain and still enforcing that what is so even with the story and the personal experience, how much bigger does it have to be to shift this?


Melina Palmer  11:15  

You know, that’s it’s definitely the familiarity bias, the status quo bias. And just to touch a little bit on how the brain works, so that the audience kind of knows what we’re up against here is that we have our conscious brain that’s doing processing, we think that we like to think that it’s running the show, and we’re logical most of the time. And that Yeah, we have a subconscious, but I don’t have to think about it too much. So in reality, your subconscious and those that everyone around you is making decisions 99% of the time, and it’s doing that using rules of thumb that it believes are best applied for things of what’s worked well in the past. So all of your life and experience is based on really a prediction, from your subconscious brain of what worked yesterday or five years ago or five minutes ago, and thinking it’s going to work again, moving forward. And so if you consider that, and it doesn’t like to elevate things to your conscious brain, because we can’t have too much going on in that space at any given time. 


Melina Palmer  12:27  

So if you compare your brain to a computer, which people like to think about the processing power, make that kind of comparison, you would say, your subconscious can do 11 million bits of information per second, that it can process. And your conscious brain can only do about 40 compared to 11 million. So there’s a lot that is happening and that wow, just space, right? Like all those, the rules. And I want to do this, now I do that. And that’s easy and normal. And I have a rule for this. And it’s just trying to make its way through all the time. So it likes predictability. It likes what’s familiar, it likes to know that it’s trying to make you feel safe all the time. That’s its job right to keep you protected and alive and safe. And so then if you look around and see what everybody else is doing, that’s another way that we can feel safe. We heard just like cows and guppies and anything else for protection. And so we have, then when we do start to kind of edge our way out and to say, Well, I’m going to do something different. And you realize you’re on that periphery of the herd, it can be a scary place. And you start having this mix of what’s called counterfactual thinking, and pre factual thinking, to where that’s where we say, What if well, what if this happens, or you reflect and say, Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I did that. And you’ll dwell kind of forever. 


Melina Palmer  13:57  

So when it’s a scary spot, you’re trying to protect your young, and make sure that they’re going to be safe into the future, and that you’re giving them the best possible life and you start trying to do some research and you get a little bit scared because you’re out on the edge. And then you start asking your friends and they say, Well, I wouldn’t do that. Because it all just gets in your head and kind of pulls you back to where your subconscious is going to feel safe in the middle of the pack. And you say, Well, next time if it gets really bad, then I’ll come around, and I can make a change. But I’ll be ready for the next one. But it’s not quite time. So that’s basically what you’re battling. And you can see, you know, I’m sure for the listeners, you’ve experienced this. If it was you know, you hate your job, and you were ready to go. And then you’ve got the offer of the dream job and you got scared and decided to stay or we’ve all stayed in relationships too long. We’ve all had these sorts of experiences. To where, when it’s there, you get scared. And so you’re break because your brain wants to keep you safe. So it can be very difficult, the story might be enough to get you out, but not necessarily enough, then to nudge you over the edge, there’s like something else that needs to happen to keep that momentum moving.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  15:23  

Okay, from that something else, I would love to see if we could unpack a little bit because what’s actually happened in this year of interviewing all of these innovators, we’ve become aware that we’re like, these little pockets that are bright and shiny, and kids are getting great learning in that student-driven and they’re out doing community service projects that they create, and, and it’s beautiful. But we aren’t getting any traction. And like, I can’t believe my micro-school doesn’t have waiting lists, you know, and I get I actually I can’t believe my local school district has choice schools that are small and personalized, that have waiting lists out the door and a lottery system. And every year families are just really hoping to get into them. I can’t believe that parents aren’t saying give us more of these. We don’t want these waiting lists, create more break your schools into schools within schools. So anyhow, these other innovators and their buddies were saying we are willing to work together and break down we know we’re part of the problem is we’re siloed I’m siloed in my Seattle progressive Education Network, or in my public school, or private school, or big picture learning school, that we’re in our little organizations, even if they’re of innovation, how can we break down those silos? And then how can we not just be educators? How can we pull in some youth organizations, some parent organizations, how can we get business so we started this Ed Active Collective


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  16:50  

So we know we need to break down silos, we also know we need to be politically active, we can’t just model this change and say, okay, world, we’re modeling it, do it, we need to connect to the people that make the state testing laws, and that is such a force and how the funding works. So we’ve come together, we’re going to be meeting regularly because we know one and done doesn’t work. We’re offering a summit, a free summit in late June, you know, to really start to work about activism with all these forces. But what’s that’s something else, we feel like we’re breaking down silos were repeating, we’re not just a one and done, we’re getting different populations together, we’re hearing stories, we’re taking action helped me what we don’t want to spin our wheels, we feel like we’ve been spinning our wheels, and creating a tiny change when we see so many kids not being served and the lack of equity and so many kids dropping out or having mental health issues. What are we missing? Melina?


Melina Palmer  17:48  

Well, I think you’re definitely doing it sounds like the right stuff. And looking at these different points in the chain of, as you said, it’s the state testing piece, the business piece, I would really be looking to, if it wasn’t already on the list, but you know, some of those top colleges to say that if they had just, you know, as an example, who was to say they have a certain allocation of scholarship dollars that go to people that were in, you know, micro-school or something along those lines, could be a really good selling point thinking about. So when you’re trying to sell someone on the idea, you want to know where their points are, that are going to be hang-ups, or that could help nudge them into feeling that this is a really great choice, and you’re going to make work. So even if the, you know, state testing goes away, even if some businesses are on board, if none of the colleges care, and it there, there’s this fear that my kids not gonna be able to get into college, if they didn’t go to a traditional school, I think that would be one of the big, biggest concerns probably. 


Melina Palmer  19:08  

And so I would start in that spot to where you can say we actually have, you know, a certain percentage that are we’ve talked to all these top schools, or, you know, if you have for any of the schools where it’s outside, that you’re paying, like in a private school type of a model, even in the, like, elementary, you know, through high school, knowing that if there was some extra benefit with, you know, a getting program or something along those lines, you know, could be something to make a difference knowing those top hold-ups, and what the problem we get into because our subconscious brain doesn’t actually speak well to our conscious brain. What someone tells you, their biggest concern and problem is, is not necessarily the thing. That’s actually holding them back. Where that fear is, where that kind of gut reaction that’s making them feel scared isn’t necessarily something that they can properly articulate. And this is a problem that marketers have dealt with for years, where you do the focus group, and you say, hey, we’ve got this new toothpaste, what would make you buy it? And they say, Well, my, the one I use has baking soda, you say, okay, so if we put baking soda, and you’ll buy the toothpaste and say, Yes, absolutely. And so then they go, and they make a new toothpaste with baking soda, and then nobody buys it still, because it’s actually, you know, you bought the other one for a nostalgia factor, because it was in a shiny box, but you don’t really know why you buy the toothpaste that you buy, just the habit in that way. So trying to understand what’s actually driving that fear. And that behavior can make a really big difference. 


Melina Palmer  20:57  

One of the types of research that are done in behavioral sciences is looking at using metaphors to help understand what’s happening within that subconscious brain. And so if you have ever done, like a vision board type of exercise, yeah, using this kind of the same way to where the subconscious is able to explain things, it ties in better with visuals than with language. And so if you ask people to like, Hey, we’re talking about this process of changing schools, or thinking about if you were going to move your, your kid into this other space, you know, look at all these images, what, what is relating for you, and then you can pull some of those up, and then kind of get an explanation, you know, and you end up with things that people didn’t even realize, was under the surface to where maybe it’s they pick up a bunch of stuff with water, like, I just feel like I’m drowning in this decision, right? It’s and so being able to use those metaphors can help uncover what’s actually behind those motivations. So that you can speak to that, to get that kind of subconscious Calm down, and understanding of time for a change. When you really know what the holdup is, well…


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  22:18  

Oh, I like that. I like getting the connection between the subconscious and conscious so that we can get to it because I know that happens. People say Well, yeah, well this or this or this, and it really doesn’t make much sense. Like my daughter is being pestered and bullied by other girls. And then I’ll hear and we’re moving her to an all-girl High School is like, wait a minute, wait a minute, that doesn’t, you know, so I know that something else is going on? Because to me, that is so nonsensical, that I’ve actually heard that. So that helps connect the dots. And that’s interesting. My brain is immediately spinning to how we can use visuals more with our students to again, help them unpack, right, subconscious.


Melina Palmer  22:58  

Yeah, well, and then I think it’s understanding the process. And I think that different communities will have different motivations from the parents and the students. And so while we would always love to have, it’d be great if there were those one size fits all silver bullet sort of solutions for everything. It just doesn’t work that way. And, you know, in, like, what you’re saying, in a location where you are affluent space, you have people in the A went to prestigious universities and have been striving where they’ve been overachievers their entire life, and they have planned about their kids going to an Ivy League school or working at some big business. That college application piece, that prestigious is going to be much more important. And understanding the ethnic ties, if that’s something in a specific community of you know, the honor of your parents is different, of course, in some communities and others in a different community. It may be more about giving your kids what they think that they want, and letting them choose. And so if the, if the children are getting scared about leaving their friends, which is yes, right, is Yeah. And then you say, well, we’re pretty sure it’s good, but she’s concerned about the couple friends she does have and like what if she doesn’t make new friends? 


Melina Palmer  24:34  

It’s the same status quo bias. It’s the same familiarity bias. It’s pre factual counterfactual thing. It’s all still happening, but it’s who and how to help them overcome that. So if you’re looking at the parents, and it’s a university thing, that’s one thing, if you’re looking at the kids, and it’s a friend’s comfort thing, you know, how do you have you know, the word It’s coming to mind is a mixer but some sort of like a social engagement to where everybody’s, you know that you have an open house or some sort of a fun, interactive things that all the students get to get together and do and bring in a friend from the community, you think about like church youth groups, where it’s like everybody brings a friend today, because they’re wanting to get more people to be coming to the youth group, and potentially to be attending that church, you know, you can have that same sort of setup for the school. And then if the kid wants to go and have some friends over there and knows, it’s not going to be so scary, and they got to meet some teachers and learn about why it was a great experience. That could be the only nudge that’s needed to get the parents on board if they know that their kids going to be happy. And they’ve been, you’ve been dealing with depression and things like that at the other school. And where the kids can say, yeah, there’s no bullying here, we don’t have that. And they have that one, you just need that one, close connection. And kids are really good at making those pretty fast if you put them in the right situation, which I don’t have to tell you. And, you know, you look at summer camps and, and that sort of stuff. And so I would look at those pieces of motivation, and how you can get the kids excited about it. Because that could be a really big difference-maker.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  26:25  

I like that. Because it is a lot of times the kids can’t picture something different. And they’re drowning and hours of homework or they’re mad that it doesn’t, when will ever use this, but they’re clinging to friends. And yeah, that was the unknown is worse than the misery I’m in right now. The unknown is scary.


Melina Palmer  26:43  

Yeah, that’s the, you know, the devil, you know, it’s better than the devil You don’t? Right?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  26:47  

Absolutely. Wow, this is loaded. I am going to shift gears, I want to talk a little bit about you. All right. So behavioral economics wasn’t even on the map before you took up the cause. I mean, I had not heard it my whole life until your podcast until your business, you know, and I bend to school and had degrees and stuff like that, you know? So what do you think has been the biggest challenge getting folks to even accept this new realm that they may not have heard of? 


Melina Palmer  27:22  

Well, I will say like, why super appreciate that I am not a one-woman behavioral economics show. I mean, my podcast kind of is, but there’s a lot of momentum that’s been happening for many different reasons. And the research that the field is grounded on is back to like the 1960s. And, and even beyond, but specific research. So would say that you have just more coming into play, we had a couple of Nobel Prize winners, that have come to the field in the early 2000s, and then another in 2017. And then having some really great books that have been able to popularize the research. And to show what has been found, as this credibility is building in the field. And really, it is taking something that’s been around for very long time economics, and to say, you know, there’s a reason that those models don’t accurately predict behavior. And it’s time to include some psychology into this and, and whatnot, and finding the science to help change very much like what you’re looking at this entire perspective of economists from generations of how things are done, to say, you know, maybe it’s a little bit different. 


Melina Palmer  28:46  

So that’s been a movement that’s been going on for quite some time, and helping to get people to see that it can make a difference. And to me, one of the biggest things that have been happening over these past five years or so, and I know I’m, I’m one of the early or applied behavioral economists in that way. And so looking at how we take this like we did this research study, isn’t that cool, and we found this isn’t that cool. And then working with businesses to help them to see like, this is how you use it. This is how you can do something with it, instead of it just being a cool thing that you read about in a book, but you can actually slightly reframe your message and have a huge impact without having to spend a lot more money and thinking about the brain, you know, the changes that it can actually make. So some of those studies being more applicable within life and business and being able to show real people getting actual results with it is always helpful in moving that needle.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  29:55  

That makes really good sense. And speaking of books, Your book what your customer wants and can’t tell you releases next month. And that is super exciting. Tell us about it.


Melina Palmer  30:07  

Yes, I’m very excited that yes, the book comes out May 2021. And it’s already on presale if anyone is listening now, but it’s essentially exactly what I was just saying helping people to actually apply and understand behavioral economics. And it’s, it’s structured like a reference guide of sorts, to where you have really in the meat of the book is the top 16 concepts that I use with businesses and in my consulting, and what I see most often explaining them kind of one chapter at a time, little bite-size, you know, five to 10 pages, each with some of that research, helping you to apply it. And then in part three is looking at what I call behavioral baking, and starting to kind of mix things together into a recipe. If you combine, you know, these three concepts, you can do this. And then if you were to put these together, you can use this for pricing strategy, or telling a great story or whatever that is showing how you can mix them together to have some impact. So it really is just helping people to have a book that’s going to let them do this again. And again, there’s a free PDF workbook that will be available on my website,, where you can find that to where you’re then able to, you know, print that out and be using your reference book. And you know, trying again, and again, with different problems as you go. So it’s not just something that sits on a shelf.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  31:44  

I love that. And actually, I need that, because I listen to your podcast is like, Oh, right. Okay, that’s that bias, one. That’s that. And then it’s like wait, which was which. So I really needed to be laid out for myself because I don’t use them enough for them to be a regular part of my language. And so I’m definitely going to get pre-ordered. And we’ll put all of these links in our show notes. Of course. Yeah. So award-winning podcast was downloaded in 160 countries, and it’s off the charts.


Melina Palmer  32:18  

Yet, number 170. Now, actually, so I know we’re making it happen.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  32:23  

Wow. And help teach at universities and your own business and consulting with people. And then a new life having a baby in August. What else is going on in your crazy world? believe that’s already crazy.


Melina Palmer  32:41  

I know, it feels like that’s a good spot, you know. But yeah, I think the book I’ve been teaching applied behavioral economics at Texas A&M since the fall of 2020. So that’s been a lot of fun and being able to just continue, to help in that way. And so doing corporate consulting and things like that, more speaking engagements, I’m also launching a community that’s a free space. It’s called the be a thoughtful revolution, where everybody that’s interested in behavioral economics, certain behavioral science, regardless of your background, whether you already have a doctorate in it, or you’re brand new, can come in and just be having good conversation and asking questions and networking with others who are interested in the space. I do, you know, be doing monthly, Q and A’s in there, and just being able to help have book clubs or whatever, you know, we’re gonna figure it out as we go. But just that space where people can ask questions and learn together. I’m really excited about that.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  33:52  

Oh, my gosh, it’s so minded because I want to keep learning and I love our brains love making connections. So I could see being a part of this community and making connections and tying it into education and learning from other professions. And so I’ve made a note of that as well. Yay. Let’s get to know the person. Molina a little bit behind all of your hard work. Let’s do some turbo time questions.


Melina Palmer  34:19  

All right.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  34:20  

So what’s the last book you read?


Melina Palmer  34:25  



Maureen O’Shaughnessy  34:28  

Overall the edits?


Melina Palmer  34:30  

Yes, I so I would say I actually just read a book that is called You’re Invited, which comes out on the same day as my book on May 11, by a guy named John Levy. And it’s very interesting about making good connections and story and how he’s been putting on these dinners for years, where he invites Nobel laureates and Olympic athletes and Grammy Award winners all sorts of things together, but no one’s ability to say their last name or what their job And they cook dinner together. And then when you actually sit down and eat, you can say who you are. And it’s all about making great connections, fascinating understanding the behavioral science concepts of what’s happening in the brain and how you can make better and deeper connections. So, yes, I would say you’re invited by John Levy. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  35:19  

Ooh, interesting. Who are two inspirational folks that you would love to meet?


Melina Palmer  35:25  

I will always and forever have Paul McCartney at the top of my list. I love Paul McCartney. I one reason I find him inspiring is that he actually can’t read music and never has, which is Oh, I know. And none of the Beatles I guess could but all the amazing things he was able to do without that. I think it’s just really fascinating. And my other would be I’m a big fan of Ellen Degeneres and the work that she’s done to bring people together as well.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  35:55  

Yes, everybody. She looks so happy go lucky, easy. Her goofy dancing and everything. And behind it the genius is the hard work, the sacrifice. Yeah. And anybody whether it’s a dancer to make stuff, look that easy is super hard, right?


Melina Palmer  36:10  

Yeah. Love. Love, Ellen. So top of my list.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  36:15  

How about one TED talk that inspires you?


Melina Palmer  36:18  

I think this one really lines up with some of what you’re talking about today. It’s how to start a movement by Derek Siebers. And he talks about, you know, it’s one thing to be the first but then you’re just kind of the crazy person doing something and that you need a fast follower. You need people that come behind you to help get that snowball moving. And he shows that a concert where there’s just one person dancing, to then having a whole group of people and where you want to follow that momentum. So I think that’s a really great one. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  36:51  

Oh, I want to watch that one. Yes. Where’s your favorite place to travel? Or where do you want to travel to?


Melina Palmer  37:00  

The favorite I lived in Rome, in college. And it is, it’s a second home, I would say it’s one of my very, very favorite places. So between there, and I still love Hawaii. Those are, you know, the kind of I’ve been talking with my husband about our retirement world of like, three months in Hawaii three months in Rome, three months Seattle, like mix it up? Like that’s a dream.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  37:24  

Sounds like an awesome


Melina Palmer  37:25  

Dream. Yeah.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  37:27  

What’s the biggest thing you wish folks knew about changing paradigms?


Melina Palmer  37:31  

I think that it doesn’t actually have to be as difficult as it may seem when you can work with other existing rules within the brain, a lot of what we’re talking about today. So knowing what’s holding people back, and how you can pull a different lever to make a difference. A great example of this is a company called the literary, which I think was interviewed on episode 75 of my podcast, getting people to properly throw away and sort their garbage, which seems like an insurmountable task. And you might try to do that with logic, which is what everybody kind of does. But they instead turn litter into lottery tickets. And if you throw something away and properly sorted, you could win, you know, millions of euros or wherever they happen to be. And people magically know how to throw things away when you motivate them properly.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  38:23  

Whoa, I have to throw in when I was at an international school heads conference in Thailand, one of their legislators, directors of human relations with they were trying to lower the population. And they had a father’s day vasectomy. The park was full. And anybody that did have got their name thrown in a lottery to win like a million dollars. They did within five years, they have lowered their population to a more sustainable level. They were super creative like that. So yeah, when you say that, it’s like, I know, I’ve heard that that works in high stakes, things like the SEC dummies.


Melina Palmer  39:00  

Right? Yeah. But and you know, you want to make sure you do that responsibly. I heard something recently where I think in India that they were saying if you presented that you had a dead, you killed a cobra that you would get some sort of monetary stipends because there was a problem. But then people started breeding them to kill them to bring in. So it created its own problem. And then they said, Okay, we’re not going to pay any more. So they released all the Cobras into the wild, which created a bigger problem. That’s a different TED Talk.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  39:30  

Yes, yes. What’s a pet peeve of yours?


Melina Palmer  39:34  

Oh, I would say not asking questions and just accepting some of that status quo of letting things kind of happen around you even when you have so I guess it’s like maybe getting in that passive-aggressive space. We’ll just leave it there. Yes.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  39:55  

Yeah. Yeah. What’s one passion you bring to behavior Economics,


Melina Palmer  40:01  

I would say the passion for application and helping businesses to do really good work’s going to find the best possible options for consumers that also do very well for the business and the people that work within. There’s this really great harmony that can all come together. When you use that behavioral economics and behavioral science in the right way.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  40:27  

The whole idea of a win-win, win and not, I have to lose for you to win. Yes, yeah. Love that.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  40:37  

What’s the silver lining from this crazy, crazy pandemic time,


Melina Palmer  40:43  

I had a lot of, because I work with a bunch of businesses like you said to entrepreneurs up to corporations, there’s big, big when the status quo is shifted, and we are forced to change, it creates an opportunity for businesses of any kinds, and schools would be the same, to be able to step in and show that there is a new solution, there’s a new opportunity, there are a lot of new companies and opportunities and things that opened up when everything shifted, where you would have had a difficult time overcoming status quo bias. And because everyone has to change, then people get used to using zoom or start making their coffee at home or, you know, whatever that is. And so seeing those as opportunities to have conversations with whatever business you’re in, and with your school, say, you know, we’re all about virtual learning. And our students have always done that, or, you know, whatever it is, can make a big difference. It’s an opportunity that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  41:49  

Yes. And what’s one thing most folks don’t know about Melina Palmer?


Melina Palmer  41:55  

I would say that some people do know this, but I used to compete singing opera in high school, we’ve had some, you know, musical references throughout. I was the only vocalist in my high school to go to state my senior year. And I also sang with a country Band In Seattle for a few years before moving away. And I have sung many national anthems, including for the Seattle Mariners. Wow.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  42:25  

That That makes me feel like left brain right brain. You’re this brainiac and you’re this artist and you’re just,


Melina Palmer  42:32  

yep, I also quilt and knit and crochet all that sort of stuff. So


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  42:36  

yay. Oh, I bet you’re getting to practice a little of that as you’re preparing for your baby boy.


Melina Palmer  42:41  

Yes, I have a dream of a knitted blanket. I have all the yarn. And I haven’t had time for it yet. But it’ll be great when I get it too.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  42:49  

You don’t need it till next winter. 


Melina Palmer  42:50  

Right, right.  Yep, I got some time. Yes.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  42:55  

And I always like to close with a magic wand moment. If you could wave your behavioral economics magic wand, what would you create so that schools worked for all of our learners?


Melina Palmer  43:10  

I would say, better facilitation of asking questions and keeping curiosity going. It’s not the last book I read. But my all-time favorite book is a more beautiful question by Warren burger, he actually does talk a lot about the school system in that space. If anyone hasn’t read it, I highly recommend it. But showing that we are natural-born questioners, there’s a lot of value in asking good questions and associations within the brain. And so teaching, helping to nurture that instead of teaching kids out of it, I think would be the big change. I would make.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  43:47  

Love that. And I just keep hearing curiosity in the adult world. I was just listening to an Ezra, I just draw a blank as your client I think podcast and they were talking about curiosity to help us hot get curious about this feeling to lower anxiety as adults. And I was listening to a movement expert talk about curious could you lead with your elbow? So this curiosity is not just something that we want our little seven-year-olds to keep for school, I’m hearing it being advised to adults of all ages. So that sounds really powerful.


Melina Palmer  44:21  

Yeah, I now teach in my consulting with I teach question storming instead of brainstorming for businesses. That’s a tactic that was created by the right question Institute. So recommend checking them out so that I learned about them first in a more beautiful question. So it’s, it’s really important. It helps us to expand and learn and be innovative and happier just great, great things. Curiosity is important.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  44:45  

Wow. All listeners. You can see why I was so impressed with Molina’s podcast and what she was doing just the content, the quality, the references the connections. Molina this is why I reached out to you. I’d heard some podcasts were just light-hearted and fun. It’s like no, I want people to have a list of Show Notes and references. I but I also don’t want to have to memorize I don’t want, I don’t know. And so for you to coach me and now for this to be our one-year anniversary, I am triply grateful to have you as a guest today. Thank you so much for joining us. 


Melina Palmer  45:21  

Of course, thank you so much for having me, and congrats on your one-year anniversary, and there are too many, many more.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  45:37  

Goodness, I feel like I need a mic drop, rather than to unpack anything that Melina shared when she compared our brains too hard drives and talked about how our subconscious mind is processing 11 million bits a second. And our conscious mind is processing 40 bits. During that same Second, it really became visual and clear to me how much we operate from the subconscious level, having biases toward what is familiar, and our herding instincts have kept our species alive for centuries. This makes sense. It looks like we really need to tell our story in a different way and trigger different parts of the brain. We know that students in our innovative schools are getting into good colleges are understanding how to design and iterate and manage projects. But how do we share that story and alleviate the parents’ fear of getting into colleges? We know that our students find a sense of community quickly in our more personalized schools. But how do we create that mixer or invite a friend experience to help share that story with teens who are worried about not having friends in a new school? When Molina gave the toothpaste example, it resonated. I know that I’m often drawn to happy colors over other features as a consumer. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  47:08  

So I get that we’re driven by our subconscious and patterns in our brains. Just as behavioral economics has had to build credibility, and work to change traditional economists perspective, those of us applying education innovations and human-centered schools also need to tell our story in different ways and create new experiences to build the new school model that makes caring and relevant learning available for all of our students. I am going to get online and pre-order Molina’s book now I have lots more learning to do. Molina’s magic wand of curiosity, a mindset that helps us expand learn, be innovative, and happy was powerful. schools could foster this mindset, use question storming and nurture curiosity instead of teaching kids out of it. Yes, we have lots of work to do. Please join us as AED activists and add your voices to our June summit. The details are in the show notes. It’s going to take a village to overcome our natural resistance to change to make the important changes needed in education. Thank you for being a listener this first year. I love getting to host education, evolution, and bring you lots of smart, creative, and curious guests. Here’s to the education evolution.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  48:46  

If you’re finding yourself thinking, I need to do this in my school. Let’s talk about it. I consult with schools to help them find new innovative solutions to reaching every student. Let’s put together an action plan. Visit to book a call and let’s get started.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  49:17  

Education evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen heard, valued, and thriving. We need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. I’d be so grateful if you’d head over to your podcast app to give a great rating and review if you found this episode valuable. Don’t wait. Please do it right now before you forget. I really appreciate it. Thank you for listening, signing off. I am Maureen O’Shaughnessy your partner in boldly redefining education.


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