We’re all irrational!

How many rational decisions do you make? Do you think that most of your decisions are rational? Coke

Do you worry about anything?

Did you know that people feel less safe in a highly guarded airport than they do in a less well guarded one?

Have you ever worried about illness? Do your worries reflect the reality of the risk?

Do your death worries reflect the size of the bars in this chart?

Are you twice as worried about cardiovascular issues compared to cancer, or over 1000 times more worried about cancer than swine flu?

I work in IT and I see irrationality everywhere I look.

On a weekly basis I see projects that people expect to “revolutionise” the way that they work. This is a completely irrational expectation. Tell me the last thing that completely “revolutionised” anything? No I can’t think of anything either. I can think of things that have made a positive contribution, and some thing that have made a negative contribution but nothing that on its own could be regarded as truly revolutionary.  There is a cumulative effect that could be regarded as revolutionary but that comes over time and it the outcome is normally unexpected.

Another area of IT irrationality is the area of cost control. The only factor that seems to influence whether something is worried about as a cost is it’s size. You might say that that was a rational response, but it isn’t – the real measure should be value. Microsoft software, as an example, gets managed quite tightly because it’s a big number, but this software is used all day, every day, by most organisations. Very little control is normally placed upon the thousands of other bits of software that most organisations use and that’s because the software tends to go out in small chunks, for a project here and a project there. The overall cost of the little bits is itself a big number, but the amount of value that is being generated from it is quite low. I see many of these applications, that get delivered as “vital”, ending up dormant and waiting to be used.

Another area of IT irrationality is how few of the capabilities that people have available to them get used, even when they could add value. I’m becoming very intolerant of the people I see using an application like PowerPoint who draw a box and then put on top of the box a text box and then put the words into the text box. I want to scream – “just right click and add the words straight into the box” (and I must admit that sometimes I do).

I’m not immune from this irrationality. One of my irrational acts is checking my Blackberry at completely inappropriate times. These are times when I know that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do anything with what I have just read. Why do I bother looking then?

How many organisations are there out there that are running business critical processes on platforms that are out-of-support, unsupported and unsupportable.  Why don’t they do the rational thing and replace them?

Having said all of that, I’m not sure that rationality is always a good thing. Most of the successful innovations I have seen have been a complete surprise to the people who created them. If they had been rational they wouldn’t have done what they did. We need some things to fail to know that they are failures. Perhaps we need to regard the next great thing as “revolutionary” to give it a fighting chance of being just that.

(Thanks to Information is Beautiful for the charts, I really like charts and visualisations, so much better than words)

One thought on “We’re all irrational!”

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