Are you rational?

I’ve just read one of Seth Godin’s recent posts (you can find it here – His view is summed up in the last line of his post; “There’s room for both rational and irrational decision making, and I think we do best when we choose our path in advance instead of pretending to do one when we’re actually doing the other. The worst thing we can do is force one when we actually need the other.”

But Seth has missed an important point – you cannot put decision making into neat boxes (e.g. rational for economic decision, and irrational for artistic decisions). As an example he says that Black Jack players make rational decisions, when we know that they use emotions and gut feel as much as they use calculated judgement (see Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” and Antonio Damasio’s “The Feeling of What Happens” for more on this). Gladwell would go as far to say that seemingly “irrational” decisions are often more accurate that calculated rational ones.

Seth seems to suggest that we can pick and choose which decision modality we’re going to use for specific types of decisions. We can’t and we shouldn’t. Damasio points out that without emotional content we cannot make decisions. Every decision will be a combination of both, where one modality may have dominance over another (except where there is some pathology). Moreover, we all tend towards one modality or another; “irrational” intuition or “rational” judgement. If you are more comfortable judging at pros and cons you’re going to find it difficult/uncomfortable to just focus on using “gut feel”. And if you are more comfortable listening to that inner voice, you’re going to find it difficult/uncomfortable relying on “data”.