Predictably human

Photo by flickr user ajari.

Photo by flickr user ajari.

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The MAIM Class of 2014 shares their individual experiences of innovation, in the lead up to their Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making.
The Networkers understand the vast potential of people to generate innovations. Sharan Sethi explores the depths of what drives people’s behaviour – and how to use human biases as strengths.


Human motivation has always been fascinating to me. What drives us and makes us behave the way we do? There is no perfect equation in the understanding of human beings, however, without this understanding, how can we innovate in order to create a better future?


One of the most salient aspects of business today is the need to know and understand your customer. This understanding needs to go beyond consumer profiles and demographics. Organisations need a way to gain deep, embedded knowledge about their customers and their market in order to find ways to differentiate, and stand out from the crowd. The objective is no longer about just providing a product or service; it is about building an emotional relationship between the user and the organisation.


I have drawn on multiple fields of study in order to understand how people can be motivated into shaking up the status quo and adopting new behaviours. I have researched motivation theories, decision-making behaviours in psychology, neuroscience and behavioural economics in order to compare them to the rational model that is followed by traditional economics.


My research implies that organisations must question their prevailing beliefs about the consumer in order to make an impact. Expected, rational economic behaviours are not relevant when attempting to understand the latent, intrinsic values that govern human beings.


In traditional economics, people take considered, rational decisions. However, irrationality has always been a basic tenant of the psychology. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s research teaches us that the most fundamental decisions of any human being are driven by emotions, not rational thought. Behavioural economists, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein emphasize too, that human behaviour is far from unpredictable – in fact ‘people systematically go wrong’.


Seen from this angle, perhaps it is worth considering the question of what is ‘correct’, and time to establish new innovation frameworks that reflect the irrational yet predictable dimension of consumers instead of clinging to the presumptive paradigm of human rationality.


Many organisations have come to forget that consumers and customers are people, actual human beings. Emotions and feelings are a hallmark of humanity and it is exactly in the inherent human irrationality, and not predictability where the potential for new connections and innovation is buried.

Only with an empathetic approach to understanding people can organisations make a lasting impact on the lives of consumers in a meaningful way.


Questioning the established paradigms means to change how established organisations understand consumers and customers, and that takes courage, conviction and persistence of each single member. But once this change starts happening, the first step on the long journey towards a culture of innovation has been made.


To learn more about the innovative potential of irrationality and Sharan’s research, please join us at the MA Innovation Management upcoming Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making, from the 18-22 June.