Human Irrationality

We have had decades of argument around human rationality and irrationality. We have multiple theories around it. Some directly refute others but many build upon each other. Keeping all the theories/models aside, here is my take based on lived experiences.

We are irrational creatures by nature.

As a species, we celebrate rationality. We even strive hard to achieve it individually and collectively. My guess is, we prefer rationality because it is predictable. In that sense, rationality is like science. But when push comes to shove, our default nature pops and all our strive for rationality dies down.

You would have noticed this in your daily lives. Despite tough environments, you keep it calm, cool and rational but beyond a threshold you lose it. I don't blame you at all. The curious question is, but why?

Here is what I found...

Irrationality comes from our default human system. Our brain has a triune structure, and it is hierarchical. Layer 1 is all about staying alive (respiration, cardiac functions etc). Layer 2 is all about emotions and Layer 3 is all about reasoning. You might have noticed that when someone is struggling for life, they don't have time for emotions. Survival is primary. When all is well, you tend to feel for things, crave for certain foods, like/dislike someone etc. When that is taken care, you have time and space for reason. This is when you can talk philosophy, epistemology, objectivism etc.

In reality 99% of us don't go past Layer 2.

We emote first and our emotion influences our reasoning. It feels our reason is devoid of emotion. It is the other way around. Emotion is the foundation of all our reasons. Our emotion is our evaluation system. How we value things comes from our emotion.

We feel first and then we use language to articulate the feelings. Sometimes we don't even have words to express what we feel. In a nutshell, reason is weak. Sentiments/Emotions are strong and most times trustworthy.

The reason for this is what we process unconsciously is far greater than what we can process consciously. We take millions of bits of information, but we can process only 120 bits per second in our conscious mind. Most of our thinking is unconscious. It happens below our awareness.

This is why, when we struggle to choose jewellery or furniture from an abundance of options and we give it a day, we can make the choice easily. The unconscious mind would have figured it out. Emotion is the central organizing process of the way we think. It tells us what to imprint. The brain is the record of the feelings of a life.

So, what to do with the above information as a designer?

Simple. Don't place too much emphasis on human rationality. As knowledge workers we tend to be skewed towards rationality as it is easy to argue, make a point and feel like a pro. But all your data-oriented discussions are not enough to truly understand why the customer did what they did and chose what they chose. It is important to dig deeper into the emotions behind. I will leave it there. The subject is vast, and we can dedicate one series just to discuss the different cognitive biases that we go through as humankind and the complex emotions behind it.

Before I leave you for today, If you are a people manager, ask your people to describe how they feel. Don't ask how they think. If they try to polish their words, ask them to share exactly what is going on and do this in a 1:1 setting. Many managers try to be rational, and they want their people to speak their heart in front of everyone. They don't and they can't. Don't make that mistake. When they share how they feel, don't argue or make your point. Just listen and allow your emotion to process it. Without breaking their trust, share what you think after a day or two.

Human nature is the basis of everything we do in our lives. Our social life, our community, our teams, our bosses, our stakeholders, our partners and our loved one. All are human beings.

It is a crime to not know enough about human nature and work with human beings 🤷‍♀️

🥂 to emotional beings!

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