Rationalists Think; Irrationalists Feel … Humans . Do Both

I always tried to raise my kids so they had a knowledge of how things work everyday in the real world.

Q: How do you teach a child what tax is? A: Ask for 27% of their ice cream! Although not in such a blunt way, I always tried to raise my kids so they had a knowledge of how things work everyday in the real world. It amazes me that schools teach trigonometry when only a fraction of the population will ever need to use it and yet there are no lessons about the tax that everyone has to pay!

Here’s another important lesson that a child can understand:  Tell your child that you are playing a ‘holiday’ game and they have only one minute to pack their suitcase with their favourite toys AND the things that they will need on the holiday. When the minute is up, have a look at what they have chosen to pack.

Most children will emotionally prioritise their favourite toys and fail to include the items that require rational forward planning, such as a swimsuit or a sun hat, even though without those things they will be unable to enjoy the holiday. On the other hand, a swim suit or a sun hat can be replaced, albeit with extra cost, whereas ‘Tom the Teddy Bear’ is irreplaceable.

The lesson here is that you need both: you need rational planning but you also need to listen to your irrational instincts to make decisions that will make you both successful AND happy. Notice that I said you need to listen to your irrational instincts – that doesn’t mean immediately acting on them; it means acknowledging that your feelings are an essential part of your identity and wellbeing.

Children don’t need to be taught that their feelings are important – but too often, our education produces adults who do not acknowledge their feelings. These unhappy adults then make decisions that maybe work on paper for somebody else, but don’t actually make them happy. Or, they act unconsciously on their repressed emotions, suffering periodically from irrational outbursts, credit card splurges, or other self-destructive behaviour.

When it comes to business meanwhile, we can think about this in terms of linear and nonlinear thinking: We all use linear models as default but few professionals in 2018 would now argue against the importance of nonlinear thinking and disruptive innovation. Similarly, when it comes to marketing, we know that people do make irrational purchases based on emotion – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing: Irrational decisions are risky and sometimes regrettable but they can also be the spark that leads to a new discovery or a new relationship.

So: Enjoy the ice-cream, and don’t think about it for too long before it melts!

This post was previously published on Joseph Felfoldi and is republished here with a Creative Commons license.

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