Interview with Nika Kabiri

We’ve all had the experience of watching others make mistakes and wondering, why did that person make that choice, or why do they continue to make that same mistake again and again?

It’s questions like these that drove Nika Kabiri into the emerging field of Decision Science. Turns out, there are common reasons why so many of us act the way we do, and why our decisions can so often work against our end goals.

Now armed with a PhD in Sociology with a specialization in Choice Theory, Nika is a leading expert in “why people do such dumb things.” I can’t say I’m not a little nervous talking with her. How many dumb decisions did I make today? But for all her education (she has a JD, too!), accomplishments and over-the-top intelligence, I found her warm, humble and generous.

“I love helping people rationally understand themselves better so they can achieve everything they set out to do.” -Nika Kabiri

Today, Nika runs a consulting firm focused on helping companies make decisions based on data – not gut – and avoid common decision-making pitfalls. Her clients are executive leaders who want to make sure their most important choices – either for themselves or their companies – are optimized and free of bias. She also works with clients who want to better understand consumer decision-making so they can optimize their products and messaging. Underlying her work is a commitment to using data and objectivity in decision-making rather than “gut” or even her own personal experience (personal experiences can also be biased). In addition to consulting, Nika teaches Decision Science for Content Strategy and UX at the University of Washington Department of Communications.

She’s also written a book called Money Off the Table: Decision Science and the Secret to Smarter Investing (psst… you can find it on Amazon here!)

In this installment of 40 Over 40, I teed up some fun questions for Nika about her life, hobbies and quarantine activities. 40 Over 40 was thought up by my business partner Chris, and highlights those over 40 who have made great achievements in the business world. It is our answer to the 40 under 40 list in the Puget Sound Business Journal, and other publications. Success can happen at any age, and many of us who have been in the business world have fascinating stories of how we succeeded, as well as great experience and knowledge to share.

How did you make your first dollar? Lifeguarding!

What’s your take on being over 40? When you’re over 40 you can afford not to be impulsive. I think because we’ve learned what happens when you make rash decisions and how that has played out in the past. So now, I can label my feelings more clearly and know where impulses are coming from. This helps me take a pause and interrogate the decision more carefully, so I make a better one.

Biggest pet peeve? People saying, “the exact same thing happened to me” – it usually isn’t genuine. They want to be relating to you, so it usually comes from a good place, but it also minimizes your feelings at the same time.

What other career would you like to try? I always wanted to be a rockstar, but I seriously have no talent.

What would that world bring you? Freedom to be something else! But seriously, since I have no talent in that, I just want to continue to write!

What are you passionate about? I know it’s cliché but, changing the world. I want to leave my little mark that says I did that, and now the world is a better place.

How do you manage work/life balance? I try to do work that doesn’t feel like work, it feels like stuff I would want to do anyway. I spent last night writing and researching a post on a subject that I was really interested in. It didn’t feel like work because it was something I enjoyed learning and writing about. When I’m doing activities I love, there’s no balancing to strive for.

What books are on your nightstand? Connected: The Surprising Power of our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler, The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr.

Side note: Nika didn’t say it, so I’m going to say it for her: her own book is also a great read!

Superpower? I would love to be able to lift stuff without touching it!

Guilty pleasure? Dumb TV shows. Since the pandemic started, I have grown to love PlayStation 4, “Call of Duty!” Who knew I would now be a ‘gamer,’ but that’s what I am now.

What is your favorite quote? “Never do anything you will regret, and never regret anything you do!”

So there we have it, folks! A literal expert on decision making telling us to live without regret. But really – I am so grateful that Nika took a few minutes to chat with me so I could share a bit of her with you all. I love what she said about doing work that doesn’t feel like work. It makes me think about how many times we say “yes” to work that doesn’t feel authentic or purposeful to us. Perhaps we can learn, as Nika says, to notice our impulse to say “yes” and question whether that will lead us to something we love doing. And while for Nika that won’t be living out her rockstar dreams, I certainly hope that less time on the stage means more writing for all of us!

Do go read her book and reach out to Nika if your business needs help making data-based decisions. In the meantime, keep an eye out for more 40 Over 40 features and catch up on any you may have missed, including my interviews with Dan Levitan and Herb Bridge!