We are all irrational

You are irrational. And so am I. We all are.

Before you get your knickers in a knot, hear me out.

We pick the $20 bottle of Shiraz over the $10 bottle of Shiraz, rationalising that it’ll taste better because of the price, and slightly fancier label. “This one says it’s won 3 awards,” we tell ourselves. “It MUST be good”. But truth be told, we can’t tell the difference. Yet we buy it anyway because, in a strange way, it makes us happy (and we don’t want to be the cheapskate drinking a $10 bottle of wine with an uninspiring label).

Economically speaking, that’s irrational. We spend twice the amount of money on something we can’t even tell the difference between. But what’s weird is, we probably never thought of this as being irrational. Curious thought, no?

We all believe that we are rational.

We think our beliefs are nothing but rational, our decisions are entirely rational and our view of the world is the rational one that should be shared by everyone else. It’s why we talk passionately about that project we’re working on or that book we love. We truly believe it’s the greatest thing ever. This is why none of us thinks we’re irrational. We have a lens through which we view the world. It’s a unique lens. It’s our lens. And we believe in it. We’re not crazy. We’re right. There are no two ways about it.

And so, when we meet or hear from someone who shares an opposing belief, or makes a decision that is counter to ours we immediately dismiss them, labelling them irrational. But doesn’t that make us all irrational? Consider these examples:

  • “Vegetarians are crazy. They’re missing out on all the goodness of animal protein.”
  • “Meat eaters are encouraging greenhouse gas emissions and therefore killing the planet. Everyone should be vegetarian.”
  • “I can’t believe client-x went with competitor-y instead of us. That’s a decision that they’ll live to regret.”
  • “Can you believe competitor-z thinks they should have won this deal? Client-x clearly said they were looking for a SaaS product, and they went in talking about consulting!”

It doesn’t matter who you are or which side of the fence you sit on, chances are someone out there thinks you’re irrational. We need to accept that.

So what?

It turns out that irrationality is linked to change. If you want to change someone, then you need to understand their view of the world, rationally.

As I’ve said, the first challenge is to accept that we are all irrational. If you’re not convinced yet then read this article that highlights eBay auctions that have sold for more than the ‘Buy It Now’ price… Now THAT is irrational.

The next challenge is to begin empathising with people’s irrationality and use it to drive change. If you’re trying to convince someone of a project/startup that needs funding, a business idea you have or a proposal you are working on then start by thinking about the audience (that is, who you are trying to change), and their rational view of the world.

  • What matters to them?
  • What doesn’t matter to them?
  • Why are they here?
  • What do they feel strongly about?
  • What motivates them?
  • What are their opinions, beliefs and views on this particular topic and why are these rational?

Even if you completely disagree with this particular person, or business or idea, it’s critical to see things from their perspective. Remember that understanding an opposing perspective and worldview will help you empathise with them and make changing them more realistic.

People won’t change because you tell them to, regardless of how good your rational ‘Pros’ and ‘Cons’ list is. They’ll change because they fall in love with a different version of the future. One that they believe in. One that appeals to them. And one that fits their rational view of the world.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for another glass of my award winning Shiraz.

6 thoughts on “We are all irrational

  1. Not an easy barrier to overcome in a business context when there’s customers, revenue and legal matters on the line Luke. Glad this reminder gave you some clarity though :). Thanks for your generous comment mate.

  2. This is a huge barrier for me to overcome these last few weeks. We have a customer that is asking us to do something we consider ridiculous (and possibly illegal). It has been a battle to frame the issue in a way that creates a partnership, on our terms.

    Your post here has given me some clarity on this concept. Once we acknowledge our own lens, we can recognize the lenses others have.

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