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Predictably Irrational

I chose “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely because it was included on a list of recent good management-related titles.

Ariely has done a variety of research about how we believe ourselves to be making choices rationally, when research such as his shows that we follow patterns that aren’t rational at all. For instance, when deciding between available options, the availability of choices that are similar skews our decisions in ways that are predictably different from when we are offered additional distinct choices.

I was especially interested in his research about the cost of social norms, or why we’ll happily do something for free, but will resent it or not do it at all if we’re underpaid for it.

I found that I could find many examples of his results in the ways that our library customers behave, and in how we think about work in general. For example, sometimes having too many choices results in no choice or a poor choice. Many people avoid the ranges of shelves in libraries, preferring the more limited offerings of special displays. (I’d say, too, that our staff are great at displaying the items that we know our customers especially want.) I’ve observed that as staff we remember the stand-out encounter with a customer in a way that gives it more importance in our minds than the countless everyday encounters.

This book was clearly written for laypeople. As a non-expert, I found it fascinating. I appreciate that Ariely writes in a storytelling style. I found myself looking forward to spending time with this book. Certainly, I began to reflect on my own choices, wondering what hidden predictable irrationality was guiding my thinking.

I recommend it to others who appreciate research-based thinking about why we behave the ways we do.

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