Numbers. Data. Spreadsheets. Crisp business plans. ROI calculations.

Growing GraphThose make you feel good, don’t they? They give you a firm grip on reality, a rational way of understanding a complex world, confronting the unknown and stepping into uncertainty, don’t they? Isn’t that why we love them?

Yet, we make seemingly irrational, instinct driven decisions all the time. The stock market reacts wildly to ‘sentiment’. We ‘take a call’ on so many options based on partial, unverified data. We wrap opinion in the more acceptable layer of a “hypothesis” and
“play it by the ear” all the time.

We read the numbers, but the interpretation is still ours.

We give in to rewards that can not be quantified. We chase absurd dreams.

We read all the specs of a phone and buy it for the looks and cool-quotient anyway, rarely letting the intersection with our true needs get in the way (3G phones proliferated across India way before the first operator launched a 3G data plan, and half of our Android phones have no data at all!).

A car’s 0-60 numbers drive us. Or its looks, perhaps. In reality, we usually sit inside, and are stuck in traffic at crawl-speeds at best.

We care about the “ambience” of a restaurant at least as much, and often times more than the food. The definition of the same is not infrequently an aspirational one derived from a glossy, or a peer group.

The peer group is even starting to determine the attributes one’s potential significant other should possess!

Great, sensible, seemingly no-brainer products have failed at the doorstep of inexplicable user behaviour. The life insurance industry has had to battle our discomfort with death – the most common, inevitable event of them all. The premium outsells the more value for money in numerous instances.

Cigarettes sell despite no one believing in their health benefits anymore. We buy more clothes than we ever get down to wearing. We like owning books even when we cannot read them all, and have a Kindle anyway. We pick a destination to travel to because not too many have been to them.

We don’t necessarily move to “the best city to live in” even if the arguments for it are good and valid in our opinion. Hell, we don’t even pick up that cycle and start riding. Being stuck inside a car in traffic with noxious fumes is largely perceived to be in the set comprising comfort, convenience and safety. We often leave our money sitting idle in savings accounts. There’s data against all of this, but we go against it anyway!

We negotiate the CTC hard, but love or hate the other parts of the job – the work culture, the pride, the human interactions and the energy. Ownership means much more than stock options or an equity stake. We partner with folks and businesses that share our beliefs and are ‘like us’  – who we ‘can work with’, not necessarily those that maximize our earnings or profits. Our motivations are this huge hodge-podge of our multi-faceted aspirations and beliefs, and very very unique to each of us.

The images in our heads are what determine who we are, what we do. Our imagination and perceptions shape our lives. Aspirations, beliefs, inertia, convenience, pride – these intangibles are way more important in our lives than the hard-nosed numbers we often seek validation through. We decide based on what we think we want and who we think we are, and the numbers usually help us justify this.

It’s what makes us human. It’s what keeps problems worth solving yet again. And it’s what keeps life interesting.

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