Behavioral Psychology is Product Management

Matt Wallaert, former Director at Microsoft Ventures and Chief Product Officer at Thrive, shares how he’s applied psychology to drive behavioral change in education and personal finance.

Product managers are in a unique position to not only build products that users love, but to actually drive positive behavioral change. “This is my way of changing things that I don’t believe have to be the way they are,” Matt says about his role as a product leader.

In addition to making a positive impact on the world, behavioral psychology can help product managers achieve significant business results. Matt applied his approach at Microsoft Ventures to increase educational searches in the classroom by 40% and at Thrive to improve users’ credit scores by up to 50 points in 6 months. Thrive was eventually acquired by, the $16 billion parent company of LendingTree.

Matt applied what he calls the “competing pressures” model to drive this behavioral change. In short, the model says that there are two opposing forces that influence user behavior:

  • “Promoting pressures” encourage users to take a desired action.
  • “Inhibiting pressures” discourage users from taking a desired action.

Matt provides several examples of how product managers can lower inhibiting pressures to achieve results. He also shares how he conducts user research to inform product decisions and the scientific approach to experimentation that he learned as a psychologist.

Here are the highlights:

  • Matt describes how studying psychology shaped his approach to product management (9:30)
  • Matt highlights how he applied behavioral psychology in personal finance (12:35)
  • Matt breaks down the competing pressures model he implemented at Thrive and Microsoft (18:50)
  • Matt describes how he applied behavioral psychology to product management at Microsoft (29:45)
  • Matt shares how user research informs his product decisions (34:30)


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