Have you heard of a neuroscientist that is a leading expert on behaviour change during the day, models for a French designer and is an electronic music producer & DJ around the world at night?
Meet Olivier Oullier, professor of behavioural and brain sciences at Aix-Marseille University. Whether he is on stage with Vivienne Westwood talking about sustainable consumption, running experiments in his lab, demonstrating neuroscientific equipment to Charlize Theron at Davos, getting awards for his work on engagement or DJing at the birthday party of a future king, he is always on a positive mission: to help people improve their lives in a sustainable, stylish and fun way.
So it’s easy to see why talking to him was a no brainer.
One word that describes you?
In your own words, what do you do?
I conduct research to better understand what is going on in people’s brains when they engage, make decisions, interact and influence each other. Then, I apply these findings to design and implement evidence-informed engagement and behaviour change strategies to help public and private organizations achieve their goals more efficiently.
Which is your favourite part of your job?
My job requires applying cutting-edge science to real life situations in order to change people’s behaviour. It therefore implies to be able to mix scientific rigour with practicality and creativity. Science allowed me to go to N°10 Downing street and the White House, advise governments, NGOs and companies, meeting Nobel laureates, famous fashion designers, academy award winners, artists, and even playing music around the world. I love this incredible variety of things I am fortunate enough to do as they fuel my creativity and allow me to learn and improve on a daily basis.
Which is the part that you enjoy the least?
Seeing organizations relying blindly on polls, surveys, etc. to make key strategic moves. Engagement and human behaviour are too beautifully complex to be captured by these simplistic and biased tools. The number of important decisions made in the public and private sectors without any rigorous testing and properly collected evidence is frightening. And don’t get me started on the human and financial consequences of these approximations …
Who is your greatest influence in your career/life?
It is without a question what I learn from observing and analysing human behaviour. I am truly fascinated by individual and collective behaviours. I could spend hours sitting and watching people move around and interact with each other. The answers to a lot of questions we have about the way people behave and engage is very often right in front of us. All one needs is a good methodology to measure and understand it.
What is your greatest achievement?
The next one. I am too young and too busy to look back at this. Plus I have a strong tendency to focus on my failures … in a positive way of course.
What was your Plan B?
Producing music. DJing. Making people happy this way. It happens … some nights.
What is your most prized possession?
My ego, so far no one has been able to take it from me -although those who love me check it quite often.
What’s your mantra?
Walking on water is possible. All you need is a frozen lake. If there is none, let’s design a(n evidence-informed) plan to freeze it.
Please complete the sentence… I could not live without…
The love of the three women of my life.
Favourite restaurant? In which city?
4Gats in Barcelona, for its history, the food and the memories I have there.
Sustainability and consumption are two words you will hardly find in the same sentence – which brands do you think are good quality and are doing their bit for people and the planet?
One of the keys to promote and achieve sustainable consumption is to make it as simple as possible for all parties involved. This is why I like Sustain.Able, a new venture already very successful globally in helping the suppliers of big companies improving their performance on all aspects of sustainability. The unique multi-level processes Sustain.Able has designed allow companies to save money, be more respectful of the planet and for consumers to buy better and cheaper products.
Do you support charities or causes?
One very important cause I support is Global Dignity, that I am the Chairman of for France. I also do a lot of strategic work to help charities at various levels, from fundraising to engagement and social change. Recently, I participated in the social contagion part of the Designed To Move, campaign against physical inactivity. I am also involved with several governments and NGOs in fighting tobacco and obesity. There is also some research that we are conducting to help people with brain disorders. Finally, I want to highlight Pur Projet, by my friend Tristan Lecomte (also founder of Alter Eco) aiming at regenerating, preserving and activating social and environmental ecosystems.
What is your personal luxury?
Vintage synthesizers, drum machines and tailor-made suits by Pointes & Coutures – a designer based in Marseille who works with local and Italian suppliers and always keeps style and sustainability on his mind.
What steps do you take to make your life more positive?
I engage with people. Always looking for a way to help them. I do my best to make things simple and turn every situation into a fun one, even the most unlikely.
And every time I can, I (make people) dance.
What’s on your Xmas wish-list?
If Santa wins at the lottery: A Bösendorfer 290 Imperial -and the room that this monster deserves. If Santa has a magic wand: That everyone I love is still alive and kicking at that time of the year.