The upside of irrationality

Why do smart people screw up? Behavioural economist Dan Ariely has a pretty good idea.
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The Upside Of Irrationality

By Dan Ariely (HarperCollins, 2010) $39

Why do smart people screw up? And how can we prevent it?

Behavioural economist Dan Ariely has a pretty good idea. He's spent much of his MIT-based career figuring out why we do what we do.

His first book, Predictably Irrational, revealed what causes us to make illogical or downright foolish choices especially about what we buy (and more than one blogger described it as necessary reading for marketers).

The Upside of Irrationality presents a more upbeat approach to the same subject. If we're stuck with an irrational mind, how can we make the most of it and sidestep selfsabotaging behaviour?

The first half of the book is devoted to workplace-related issues. What makes work fulfilling? What's the best way to get others on board with your ideas? Can revenge be a positive thing?

Ariely's often-surprising conclusions are based on numerous experiments. Interested in learning whether large financial bonuses actually motivate employees, Ariely outsources a study to India, where his team offers participants rewards equivalent to six months' salary for completing a set of challenges What he discovers is not what you'd expect.

In the second half of the book, Ariely turns his attention to more personal matters. He reveals the one thing we should do to enjoy our holidays more, how to keep ourselves happy with what we have, and whether internet dating is worth anyone's time.

But it's the little things that seem to appeal most to Ariely. In the final chapter, he looks at how the smallest decisions made in the heat of the moment can change our behaviour permanently. We continually use past choices to guide how we act in the present, so momentary decisions can form long-term habits.

Ariely's chatty, humorous style brings to life a subject not known for being thrilling, and if the The Upside of Irrationality doesn't make you examine the way you think, you'll at least be left looking at the world differently.

Rebekah White is a postgraduate journalism student, and has sometimes been known to be irrational

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