Irrationality: A Guiding Light Through the Chaos

by Ben Gaddis

To say these are challenging times is an understatement. In a matter of days, markets, lives, and companies have turned inside out, with no end in sight. I’m neither a scientist nor a psychic, so I can’t say exactly what will happen, but I do know that life as we knew it is likely transformed for the foreseeable future. 

We’re all experiencing this moment with individual hurdles, and no two stories are the same. I know I’ve been struggling with watching the fallout unfold in our own company and amongst our clients, not to mention in my community. 

What’s the best path forward?

“Think rationally!” we are constantly told, particularly in times of crisis. But even in the best of times, we over-rely on rationality. We accepted so many long-standing constants — the idea that these catastrophes only happened to other nations, or that our healthcare system and government were adequately stocked and prepared — and believed these truths would never change. As a result, we radically underestimated the vulnerability of our individual lives, the security of our country, and the strength of the global economy.

We are taught that the opposite of rational is crazy. In reality, irrationality is exactly what we need to help us weather this storm.

We want to halt the spread of the virus and minimize the immediate and long-term physical and financial damage, while also working toward a bigger goal: a future where we come out on the other side stronger. It’s not crazy to think that can happen, but it is crazy to think that we will do it by utilizing the same tools and models that got us here in the first place. If there were ever a time to think irrationally, this is it. 

Irrationality is not an untested concept. By embracing irrationality, the most influential inventors and creators in history have given themselves permission to rethink their assumptions and look for untapped opportunities. Vaccines themselves — the once-crazy idea of infecting someone to prevent them from getting sick — were a completely irrational thought when first proposed. Now we question why it takes 18 months to create one for Coronavirus. 

When the winds of change are thrust upon us — either from disruptive forces within specific industries or via a global pandemic — we need irrational thought and an army of irrational visionaries to shift course, rebalance, and collectively work toward a better future. 

Irrational visionaries see things in a different way. If you bring that thinking to moments of crisis, you might be surprised by the unprecedented solutions that spring to mind. Right now, we don’t need a miracle so much as we need a collective of irrational thinkers to solve the pressing problems at hand. Our businesses need it. Our communities need it. And our families and friends need it. 

We can see examples of irrationality in action every day: Pharma companies are using agile software processes to get prospective COVID-19 vaccines ready for trials. Within one week, Ford was able to ship 200,000 face shields to healthcare workers and first responders around the country. Ford, GM, and Dyson are all manufacturing critical ventilators. And closer to home, Texas issued an emergency waiver permitting “to-go” alcohol sales, allowing struggling local restaurants, like El Arroyo, to deliver alcohol and serve up margaritas for takeout — a move that revitalized their business and allowed them to rehire all of their staff. These companies are smashing old, rational models and embracing the innovation promise of irrational thinking.

We are often asleep at the wheel in our lives and communities. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. But regardless of the past, this is a moment for each of us to awaken to greatness by embracing irrationality.

In the coming weeks, I’ll lay out my vision for what this irrationality might look like in action, and I’ll welcome your input on how we can all think irrationally and leverage this process to better prepare for what lies ahead. I’ll also unveil a relevant and hopefully useful project I’ve been working on for several years, the coincidental timing of which I could not have anticipated, but which I hope will be of service during these unprecedented times. 

We can all benefit from thinking irrationally at a time like this. Our future depends on it. 

Ben Gaddis

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