Predictably Irrational

We humans are irrational, that includes me and you. If we want to succeed in life and business, our irrationality is a topic we need to study meticulously.

This coin has two sides. The first side is the irrationality of ourselves. The second side is the irrationality of others.

Study Your Own Irrationality

We need to study our own irrationality. We need to learn our own irrational behavior patterns. We need to become aware of them. Awareness is the first step of learning.

Then, we need to replace those irrational patterns with rational patterns. That is the second step. That second step requires a lot of effort until the new pattern becomes second nature. When the rational behavior pattern becomes second nature, we reach the highest level of learning.

How do we recognize our own irrational behaviors?

Sometimes, our irrational behaviors are obvious to us. When we smoke, overeat, or waste time online, we don’t need someone else to tell us that we are behaving irrationally.

Even though we know that those behaviors are irrational, we keep on doing them. Why? Nobel laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains this topic in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.

Two Systems in Our Minds

There are two systems that are operating in our minds. The first system is active most of the time. It’s energy efficient and fast. That’s where all of our programs reside, including the programs that we inherited from our ancestors in our DNA.

Those programs include rational behavior patterns such as fight or flight when we are in danger, as well as irrational patterns such as overindulging in calories. Overindulging in calories wasn’t irrational when food was scarce, but now, in the age of abundance, it is irrational.

Letting those irrational behaviors go isn’t easy, because that involves the second system. System 2 requires a lot of energy to operate and it’s slow. So, we can’t use system 2 all the time. We use it only when it’s necessary, for example when making a complex arithmetical calculation.

Our system 2 looks at our behavior and thinks that it is irrational. However, system 2 cannot change our behavior right away, because our behavior is mostly a function of our system 1.

What our system 2 can do is to override our system 1, over and over, until the desired behavior becomes a program in our system 1. This is what I mean by a program that reprograms itself.

It is counterproductive to get mad at ourselves for our irrational behaviors. In a way, we need to treat our system 1 as a separate entity. We need to understand that person. We need to use management and leadership skills to guide that person to act rationally.

Our Blind Spots

Some of our irrational behaviors are obvious, but some aren’t. Other people can recognize some of our irrational behaviors that we can’t. Those are our blind spots. We can only become aware of our blind spots through the feedback of others.

The problem is that receiving feedback is painful for most of us. It hurts our ego when someone tells us that something we do isn’t right. However, we need to welcome that feedback and make use of it in order to make progress in life and business.

One way of doing that is to get involved in a mastermind group, discuss our issues with other people, and to invite feedback.

Irrational Behavior of Others

Self-awareness and self-improvement is one side of the coin. It’s 50% of our success. The other side of the coin, or the other 50% of our success involves becoming aware and making use of the irrational behavior of others.

Other people are as irrational as us. However, we ignore that fact most of the time. This is an error technical people do all the time.

When technical people think about business, they think rationally. That might work to some extent in a B2B context.

In a B2C context, we need to deal with the irrationality of the end users. We need to do that even in a B2B context, but not to the same extent as in a B2C context. This is something we need to learn.

First, we need to protect our business from the irrational behaviors of others. Second, we need to learn to use the irrational behaviors of others to improve our businesses in an ethical, legal, and moral way.

Marketing and Sales

If that second part triggered you, let me tell you that all marketing and sales is based on the irrationality of other people. The only thing we need to pay attention to is to use these concepts in an ethical, legal, and moral way.

If we deliver a product or service that would truly benefit a customer, doesn’t it make sense to use the irrationality of the customer to market it to them?

As a software developer, I’m not an expert in this topic. That’s why I want to study this topic more and more. There are a few books I’ve read on the topic and a few that are on my reading list. Here’s a combination of both lists.

  • Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
  • The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, by Al Ries and Jack Trout
  • Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini
  • Pre-Suasion, by Robert B. Cialdini


We are all irrational and there’s great value in that. First, we can recognize our own irrationalities and replace them gradually with rational behavior. An important part of that involves inviting and welcoming feedback.

Second, we can recognize the irrationalities of others and use that in our lives and businesses in a legal, ethical, moral way.


  • What are some of your irrational behaviors?
  • How can you replace them with rational behaviors?
  • What would your life look like if you became aware of all of your irrational patterns and replaced them with rational patterns?