Ask for what you want. If you don’t know what you want, ask someone how you can help them.
That was the message Kristen Berman (BBA ’06) delivered to graduates during the Wisconsin School of Business’ 2023 Spring BBA Graduation Celebration. Hundreds of graduating seniors from December 2022, May 2023, and August 2023 attended the event at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison on Friday, May 12.
The event featured a keynote speech from Berman, the CEO and co-founder of Irrational Labs, a product design company focused on helping companies understand and leverage behavioral economics. She says her speech’s theme is directly tied to her own life-changing moment years ago, when she attended a lecture from a famous professor and behavioral economist. Finding herself extremely interested in the topic, she emailed the professor after the lecture and directly asked: How can I help you?
That purposeful decision lead to a response from the professor, followed by a career pivot—and the rest is history. The two would go on to start Irrational Labs and other initiatives like Common Cents Lab, which specializes in financial health research. Berman would also help launch the behavioral science group at Google.
“In life, sometimes the next step is quite obvious, but most of the time, there isn’t an obvious path,” she says. “You have to figure out how to design it for yourself.”
Since launching Irrational Labs over 10 years ago—and being named to WSB’s annual “8 to Watch” list in Update magazine in 2019—Berman happily reports continued success in her professional career.
“Irrational Labs has been taking on new and harder challenges,” she says. “We’ve been looking at behavior change in health, including things like how you get people to make a doctor’s appointment, use telehealth, and report symptoms. We’re really taking on different systems to try to figure out how to help people.”
Berman and her husband also welcomed their first child into the world in 2022—something that’s had an indirect benefit in her work as a behavioral scientist.
“You can really study human behavior when you’re watching one of your own very closely,” she says with a laugh.
She’s also designed the life she wants outside of work, and while she admits her living situation is a bit unorthodox—think nearly 20 friends living together under the same roofs—Berman says that decision reinforces another of her important life lessons for graduates: Relationships are the biggest driver of happiness.
In short, her three takeaways for the Class of 2023: Always send the email asking for what you want. Always remember that people are the most important part of life. And always stock up on cans of sparking water—it never hurts!