Monday, April 2, 2012

MBR: Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

I decided I was going to read a book a week for a year, here's a quick review of this week's book.  You can see the ongoing list here.

Basic Info

Why I bought it

Ariely's TED talks caught my eye (a common theme so far), namely  has a couple of TED talks that caught my eye, namely:

  1. Are We in Control of Our Own Decisions
  2. Our Buggy Moral Code
In both of which Ariely explores the realm of behavioural economics by sharing details of some of his more interesting research experiments (he is a university professor).

How it connects to the public sector

"... we are not only irrational, but predictably irrational - that our irrationality happens the same way, again and again.  Whether we are acting as consumers, businesspeople, or policy makers, understanding how we are predictably irrational provides a starting point for improving our decision making and changing the way we live for the better." (xx, Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely) (emphasis added).

What I got out of reading it

There are a myriad of things that effect our day to day decision making, most of which never gets a second look, but probably always should.  As it relates to work, I was particularly interested in the section on relativity (I was also fascinated by the section on arousal, but for unrelated reasons).

After reading the chapter on relativity, I started thinking differently about how I see success, to whom I compare myself to, and whom I try to learn from an emulate (e.g. the grass is always greener type thinking).  There was a really neat visual experiment early in the chapter that really drove the point home (click to enlarge):

The question Ariely poses in the book is which circle is bigger; but ultimately it's a trick question.  They are both the same size.  The lesson in general is that relativity larger determines perception.  The lesson, as it relates to a concept like success is the same, so be mindful of whom you are comparing yourself to.  In social media fuelled world, where you can see every intimate detail of your extended network of friends, acquaintances and colleagues, its often easy to get so caught up in what other people are up to that you lose your bearings.

But there was a lot more to the book than this particular example.  Overall, I walked way appreciating Ariely's penchant for experimentation and story telling.  Both of which undoubtedly made Predictably Irrational an enlightening and entertaining read.

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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