Getting to Know Baba Shiv

Learn how an unexpected career pivot from sales to academia has led this behavioral economist to a lifetime studying human irrationality.

February 24, 2023

Baba Shiv

You never know where or when you’ll get advice that will change your life. For Baba Shiv it happened when his MBA professor in India told him he should become a professor. That wasn’t exactly the career path Baba envisioned. With his sights set on becoming a CEO, pivoting to academia seemed totally irrational. Over 30 years later, the study of human irrationality is both his passion and profession.

From Barbies to Behavioral Economics

It took a few years for Baba to leave his career in sales to pursue academic life. His first job after earning his MBA was launching Barbie dolls in India, so it was only natural that he would choose marketing for his PhD. “Then, I fell in love with psychology, human behavior, and the burgeoning field of behavioral economics.” He started teaching at University of Iowa, and in 2004 joined Stanford GSB where he’s been making an impact on minds and mindsets ever since.

Make the Decision. Then Make the Decision Right.

As a behavioral economist who studies human irrationality, Baba focuses on the role the emotional brain plays in decision making. He encourages leaders to trust their guts and has plenty of neuroscience research to prove why it makes rational sense. “When you are clear in your own head and have conviction and confidence, which just so happen to come from the emotional brain, you’ll raise everyone’s spirits. Construct a narrative that showcases total success and it will turn into a reality,” he explains.

To become a professor was probably the best advice I ever got.
Baba Shiv

Shoot for the Stars. You May Fall on the Moon.

Anyone who’s taken a class with Baba will walk away with memorable advice. But neuroscience research is always at the core. Get a good night’s sleep before making important decisions so your brain is not in a risk-averse state. Take a morning walk because Vitamin D builds resistance to stress. Baba will fill your head with the brain science behind power naps and meditation, and he’ll connect it all to leadership and decision making. “Making all those tough decisions requires mental resilience in the face of setbacks,” he explains. “I want to make sure that leaders are living up to their fullest potential, and that requires taking care of yourself.”

Science for Problem-Solving Sake

As someone who once aspired to be a CEO, Baba thinks deeply about what executives need to be effective — and science is where he starts. “Much of what I teach is instinctual to these successful leaders, but the research gives them the validation that their gut decisions are not flawed,” he explains. Baba believes science can help leaders solve big problems with implications for everything from leadership and strategy to customer experience design and the broader human condition.

One reason Baba loves teaching executives is because “it’s just-in-time learning vs. just-in-case learning. The impact is more immediate because participants are actually facing the situations as we speak and we’re helping them come up with real-world solutions to their problems in real time.”

All about Nature and Nurture

Nature is Baba’s happy place. “I love the outdoors. I love nature. I just like the quietude, contemplating and appreciating what’s around me.” But get him around people, including complete strangers, and his nurturing side shines. “I am fascinated with human nature and the humanity that exists in all of us.”  This curiosity about people is second nature for someone who studies human behavior — an understanding that helps Baba discover and nurture the true potential in other people.

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