The rational path

Much of modern economic thought is driven around the framework of “rationality” – it supposes (and I submit this is a simplistic explanation, but do your own research at your leisure) the existence of a “rational person”. A rational person, you see, will always take the approach that has assumes the impersonal and effective ‘weighing’ of all costs and benefits associated with an option, ranked them, and then made the appropriate ‘choice’.

Now, you and I, if we are being honest with ourselves, know that such a stringent, and logical, approach to decision-making is a fallacy; human beings don’t work that way or at least not as neatly as fits in that box.

That said, we live in a society that has championed this narrow definition of “rationality” and so has spawned a “culture of rationality”. It has effectively weighted logic over emotion and created spaces and places that have diminished a key part of our humanity: our reliance and acceptance of intuition and emotion.

[Please note, I say “reliance and acceptance” and not existence – it’s still there, we’re just not paying that much attention to it]

I have a few declarations to make on that, not rationally explicable in some cases, but derived from conversations, articles, observations…a great combination of many things that I think worthy of putting out there for consideration. Such as:

1. Many of us operate under the fallacy that we can “control” our emotions. 
Now, this is not to make the statement that we have no control because that simply isn’t true. Rather, the “control” we exercise is akin to a surgeon using a buzzsaw where a scalpel is probably the better tool. And, in talking about that scalpel, let me mix the metaphor–

2. This “control” forces us to hack at things that trouble us in life rather than to pare and prune and care for them.
Have you ever seen a proper gardener see a plant or a tree that has been blighted and make the decision to just tear the tree out? No! A proper gardener will work with that plant or tree; they will cut out the bad stuff, carefully, sometimes leaving it to grow if it’s too far intertwined and perhaps try to starve it out with various nutrients and soil adjustments or even pesticides as necessary…but it is a long-term approach, not a short-term slash and burn. Our “control” tends to be slash and burn, wouldn’t you agree?

3. Our best work comes from a combination of passion and precision. Rationality isn’t very much the friend of “passion”; hyper-rationality, this space where so many of us are going to and living in (think of the words “human capital” and “rightsizing” and “efficientizing”), is the sworn enemy of the free-flowing ‘smudginess’ of passion.

4. Eventually rationality fails.
David Brooks’ recent TEDTalk hit a nerve for me: “Should you live for your resume…or your eulogy?” To do the former is the rational choice–that is the way to success and prestige and recognition in our world today. The latter? Hmm, not so much. One of them is going to win in the end and I think we all know which one it is.

I don’t have any conclusions for today. There is a reason this falls into the category of “musings”. I suppose that the older I get, the more my thoughts turn to things that are if not explicitly meaningful, are inherently so. With it, my attention is less drawn to perfecting the “gathering and writing of requirements“, but towards determining the value in that, determining the benefit of what it does not just for the “bottom-line” of an organization but for the people that make the organization what it is; the clients it serves, the community it and they exist in–

The bigger picture, I suppose, that’s with what I am more concerned and I am now mostly convinced that the way forward to engage with that bigger picture is not purely, or even mainly, on this well-trod rational path.


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