The bigger my bonus, the more productive I will be, or so the rational side of me believed. After reading Dan Ariely’s The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, I realized that what seems rational to you and me, doesn’t always work out as expected.
In Ariely’s book, he puts many of our common beliefs to the test. In the “pay bonus” example, he shows how an amount that is substantial enough to change your life for a year will actually cause you to perform worse on a task than a bonus of a smaller amount. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but when the money is that substantial, people tend to act out of panic. They do what ever they can to accomplish the task. That is why some of those bankers with large bonuses, may not always be acting in the best interest of the company or investment. He doesn’t say all bankers act that way, but says that it’s human nature for a lot of us to behave that way. He doesn’t just look at money; he touches on emotions, motivation, interactions, and many many more.
All of these theories on humans needing to look at the irrational choice are defended by psychological experiments that he and his colleagues have performed. He does a great job of explaining these tests in a way that we, the reader, can envision in our daily lives. It’s pretty amazing how often our choices would make sense to us, but is in fact, the wrong decision.
Although Ariely does talk a lot about psychology and the way the mind works, there is a very personal aspect to the entire book. He has gone through a lot of physical suffering and part of the reason he went into psychology was because of his condition. At some points you feel his suffering and at others you kind of feel sorry for him.
One of the things that I didn’t enjoy about the book was some of Ariely’s transitions. Many times he seems to jump and cut between the reader, his research, and his personal life without preparing the audience for some of the changes. It seemed choppy at some points, but maybe that was purposefully done because it’s not the rational way to lead the reader. 😛
I’ve always been taught to question whether or not what I am doing is right or wrong, but this book forces us all to do that a little more. I thought it was a very interesting book and would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn a little more about how our brains work.
The author of this post was provided with a complimentary review copy of The Upside of Irrationality, but the opinions expressed are his own.