Nudge of the Week: A Checklist to be illogical

Surely being logical has many benefits. Much of science and human progress owes its successes to the disciplined application of logic. Choosing logic tends to be a winning formula.

But should you ever choose to be illogical? I say yes. Consider the following.

Logic has universal rules. Aristotle wrote down a lot of them. The economist Ludwig von Mises even said that all human minds have the exact same logical structure, and to even imagine superlogic or semilogic is impossible.

So logic has rules, and all humans think about these rules in the same way. You can see where this would be helpful: for example, accounting. If someone started calculating revenues and costs in radically different ways than the norm, that would probably lead to a lot of problems. Similarly, if engineers suddenly decided that the logic of gravity doesn’t always apply, probably more bridges would fall down.

So when can we break the laws of universal logic? When it comes to dealing with people. Conventional business logic says that lower prices will lead to more sales. But it’s also possible that low prices lead to fewer sales: it all depends on how people perceive what the price says about the products in question.

Rory Sutherland points out that if an accountant tried to develop a product to compete with Coca-Cola, he would probably recommend something that would taste better and costs less. But in fact the most successful competitor to Coke has been Red Bull, which tastes awful and is much more expensive.

The only logic that applies to human decision making is that people will try to act reasonably to get what they want. But how people decide what they actually want is fundamentally, in the words of Ludwig von Mises, irrational. Trying to use logical to influence a fundamentally irrational decision is not an obviously best strategy.

If you’re trying to get ahead of the competition, using the same logical thought processes as everyone else will mean you’ll have same the same outcomes of everyone else. The only way to really get ahead of the pack is to through logic out the window.

So here is a simple flowchart of when you’ll want to employ conventional logic and when you’ll want to try to be a bit silly:

Is what you’re doing directly concerned with people’s opinions?

If no, use conventional logic just like everyone else.

If yes, try throwing conventional logic out the window and do something silly.

For more on this topic, see my (much shorter) post on math solutions vs. people solutions.