Expecting unreason

One of the most difficult myths to shake in dealing with people is the idea that people are rational. No matter how many times we see people behaving in a manner that is obviously contrary to their self-interest, we find it difficult to imagine that anyone would knowingly do so. And yet, they do, again and again.

I’m working on a project right now, and I decided that from the start, I wouldn’t worry about whether it made sense to anyone. I tried to do the same thing six years ago and was tremendously frustrated when people simply would not see or accept the obvious. Now that I’ve learned to expect irrational behavior, I’ve taken precisely the identical product but have designed an approach to appeal to the customer’s instincts instead of his reason.

Needless to say, the level of interest is now off the charts. I was badly misled by my father, I think, who was always telling me that I needed to be less contemptous of people. In day-to-day relations, I now accept that is true, but it is precisely the opposite in business. In business, no matter how low your opinion of the average individual, you will usually be surprised by the blind greed, incompetence, inability to project the future and total incapacity for logical thinking with which you must deal.

Think about it for a second. If people were rational creatures, how many would purchase Microsoft Office, considering the alternative? And yet Microsoft Office XP Pro ranks #390 on Amazon. It retails for $499, but you can find copies of it for about $140. Its functional equivalent, OpenOffice, which is 95 percent equivalent to Office – in the sense that only 5 percent of Office users need features that are not in OpenOffice – is infinitely cheaper. Seriously, it’s free, you only have to go to openoffice.org and download it. If you install Linux, you don’t even have to do that.

And yet every single person that I’ve ever spoken with about this specific issue, who did not need any of those Office-specific features, has gone out and bought MS Office anyhow. This isn’t reason, this is herd mentality. So, the trick to convincing an individual of something is to make sure that the solution you are offering him lies in the direction that his herd mentality is already driving him. This isn’t a new concept, but it’s harder to force yourself to think this way than you’d imagine. I’m constantly wrestling with the urge to make a rational case, but in truth, logic often only gets in the way. People will almost always do what they want in the end.

Once you learn to put forth your ideas and proposals in a manner which deals with people as they are instead of how you think they should be, you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to deal with them.