Why complexity matters

Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely

Regular readers of The Hannibal Blog by now know my fascination with complexity and simplicity as subjects in their own right. I’ve equated simplicity with beauty and genius, and I’ve decried the nefarious complexity (man-made, as opposed to natural) in such vulgar monstrosities as America’s tax code.

Now I’ve come across one of two TED talks (below) by Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist with an interesting life story (he was burnt in an explosion, recovered and used his agony to generate amazing research ideas.)

Here he talks about how awfully bad we are at making decisions, and how awfully confident we nonetheless tend to be that we make good decisions, indeed that we are the ones deciding at all. Much of the time we are not.

Most of the ‘choices’ we have to make in our lives are too complex. And often even a tiny bit of extra complexity puts us over the edge. We can’t handle it, so we become passive and ‘opt’ for the default, whatever that is. That means that somebody else (the one who set, deliberately or not, stupidly or not, the default settings) actually decides for us. As Ariely says,

it’s because we care, it’s difficult, and it’s complex, and it’s so complex that we don’t know what to do, and because we have no idea what to do we just pick whatever was chosen for us.

He shows this with examples from organ donors in Europe to health care to (my favorite, of course) a really stupid (or unbelievably cunning) marketing pitch that The Economist once ran.

Worth 17 minutes of your time:

Bookmark and Share