Dan Ariely: Professor, Entrepreneur, Author
Dan Ariely is the author of international best-seller books, Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality, Irrationally Yours, and The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. Professionally, he is a Professor of behavioural economics at Duke University, a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight, and co-founder of BE WORKS. Also, he manages a variety of different projects such as Dishonesty(movie project) and Irrational Game(card game). He is dedicated to public speaking as well that he has spoken hundreds of times. Through different media and channels, he tries to apply his research findings to the real economy and enrich human society.
If you have ever studied economics, you may have been taught that humans behave rationally. Is it true? The real question is "how we can live with our irrationality."
-----Why or how did you get interested in the field of psychology, behaviour science, and particularly “irrationality of human”? Did you have any specific moment?
I was badly injured many years ago and I found lots of things that I did not like when I was being in a hospital. I was wondering whether doctors and nurses were doing their best. Particularly, the thing troubled me early on was “bandage removal”. Imagine you are in a hospital and someone needs to remove bandages from you. The question is what is the best way to reduce the pain to the highest degree. What nurses took was the quick removal approach that is holding your arm and ripping bandage from your arm. Honestly, I did not like this approach and thought it should be improved.
When I left the hospital and started studying at university, I started experiments on pain and I found that the approach used in the hospital was not the best way for patients. This experience made me think about what are all the ways in which we might think with doing the best for our patient but actually we are not doing. This made me think of all the cases in which we think with we are doing the best for our patients, customers, citizens, but our intuition leads us to a different direction. Thus, I thought it would be better to study and understand better about decision-making.
Dan Ariely. Irrational Life
-----You also have a rich experience in business. What motivated you to jump into the field of business?
I’m basically interested in applications: figuring out what do we do wrong and how we can fix it. The field of business provides lots of opportunities to figure things out and do things in a better way. Of course, I am also interested in the field of government, which is another place where you can make changes that we have far-reaching implications. It is just extremely difficult to work with them even though we have tried. It is sometimes easier to work in the field of business, which is more maneuverable.
-----What is the hardest thing you have experienced, and how did you overcome it? How can people can deal with mental failure?
I was burned extensively and I was in the hospital almost 3 years. It was such a long time and I could not understand what is going on in the beginning. In order to overcome it, I was thinking about experiencing one day at a time. After that I tried to give myself targets of a particular time and particular changes; not to think too long term. I did other things as well, like the reward substitution, which is described in my second book. For example, when I did some difficult therapy, I give myself some rewards that I really love for doing. No single answer for this. There are many ways.
-----Do you have any habits that help you work productively, think creatively or achieve your goals? How have you developed your habits?
First of all, I have a habit of working a lot. I try not to succumb temptation. When I am in my office, I try to focus on things that I want to work on and put them on my schedule, which determines what I work on at a specific time. Otherwise, it is very easy to succumb to temptation like doing Facebook for many hours.
The question is “how we can get long-intentions” to play out in the way that let us do what we truly want to do. I think that using a calendar is an important way to do that. Actually, I now have a new startup company that tries to take over people’s calendars with understanding: if we get people create an actions plan, there is a much higher chance that they actually continue doing it. If we do not create an action plan, there is a higher chance of never doing it. So my habit is creating action plans, making them concrete, putting them in my schedule, and following it.
-----What is a rational way of pursuing happiness that you can suggest to people?
The idea is there are lots of irrational things that we do but if I had to pick one way, it could be pursuing something that have meanings. I think there are two types of happiness. One is happiness that comes from sitting on a beach and drinking mojito: instant gratification. The other one is coming from the feeling of satisfaction that is a sense of meaning and purpose: fulfilment. I think people often purse the first one, not the second one. The second one gives you long-term happiness.
-----Most people believe that they are honest and rational without any doubts. What would be the first step for them to be aware of their irrationality and dishonesty to make their life better?
There is a lot of ways to realise the irrationality and it is always easier to realise that other people are irrational. In terms of irrationality of us, one of the easiest ways is that your view is biased when you watch a sports game. This kind of thing makes you realise that you have a biased view that you see the reality in the convenient way and in the way you want to see it rather than the way actually it is. Another way is looking at visual illusions. Visual illusions are a wonderful demonstration that our system is not perfect and we make a lot of mistakes. I think if you think about life, with visual illusions, you can realise lots of things might be wrong and you do not see that.
-----What person comes to mind when you think of the word successful? And why?
Successful for me is a mixture of contribution and balance. I can say that I have reached that. First, successful means contributing to the world in a useful way. Second one is balancing friends, family, and career. It is incredibly tough to achieve and I have no secrets to succeeding it.
-----If you could make a call to 20-year-old Dan Ariely, what kind of advice would you give to him?
Life is a long-term game. Especially 20’s and 30’s are a good time to invest for your rest of your life and a good time to accumulate knowledge and understand what serves you better. I think in my 20’s and 30’s, I was too much goal oriented that I wanted to achieve all kinds of things and I always wanted to get things done. I did not invest my time in long-term skillset. I think mostly about education. When you are enrolled in a certain degree you can say “I just want to finalize it”. From a different viewpoint, what you are doing is setting up the toolset that you have your rest of your life, and it is useful to think longer term. Broaden your toolset for longer term.
-----If you could leave one message to the next generation in order to make the world better, what would you say?
I think the amazing thing that we do as a mankind is that we design our environment. If you look around, humans design almost everything in your view. Humans have designed great things in a physical world, but we have not yet done a great job in our mental world such as education system, taxation system, and healthcare system. To the extent that we could do on those aspects, the world would be a better place. We need to figure out how to do that.
-----What kind of website/app, service/product, or place/location do you like to use for your creative process?
The most important thing in terms of creativity is to start. Thus, time management is incredibly important. We have an application called Timeful. What we are trying to do is helping people schedule things in the way that would get people live in the way that they would like to live. Usually, a calendar does not represent long-term aspirations, but without representing those things in a calendar, the chance, of being executed, is quite low. For me, real issue is that.