“We will gradually become indifferent to what goes on in the minds of other people when we acquire a knowledge of the superficial nature of their thoughts, the narrowness of their views and of the number of their errors. Whoever attaches a lot of value to the opinions of others pays them too much honour.”
This quotation from the crazy haired Arthur Schopenhauer epitomises how I felt about market research on first encountering behavioural economics and neuroscience in about 2010. Reflecting along the lines of…., “So what’s the point in asking people what they think, or about what they did, never mind why they did it, or what they’re likely to do next!”.
Has Schopenhauer’s philosophy been scientifically vindicated? Well, yes…
- Neuroscience now tells us about the superficiality of our conscious thinking relative to our emotionally charged and super-fast non-conscious heuristics.
- Daniel Kahneman and others teach us about the importance of context and availability in decision-making, with Kahneman coining “WYSIATI” (What We See Is All There Is”) to help illustrate how our frame of reference in each moment of choice is much “narrower” than we might imagine.
- And a host of experimental behavioural economists such as Ariely, Thaler, Sunstein, Loewenstein et al have amply demonstrated the number and scale of our “predictable non-rational errors”.
Thus completing a Schopenhauer hat-trick!
If I no longer feel so depressed about my profession it is because I have come to re-define it in light of these understandings. I still find myself agreeing with Schopenhauer’s sentiment, and have set myself some appropriately disruptive and revolutionary career goals!