Snow Patrol and the art of making irrational decisions

Freezing in France (and the rest of Europe!)

A vast wave of freezing weather has descended upon Europe and it is absolutely GLACIAL outside! In Grenoble it was -15°C this morning and this felt even colder due to the icy northern winds. Just walking outside can become a frozen adventure even for the most warm and gracious souls.

The good news though is that in a place that is proud of its status as a former Olympic City the surrounding mountains are very white indeed and when inquiring about colleagues’ weekends there is only one question you need to ask:

“Did you or didn’t you?” (Go skiing, of course!)

Having talked to quite a few international students about this, I thought it might be interested to do a quick survey about the impact that the snow has when they decided to come and study here. Choosing a business school has a high financial and opportunity cost today. It is also very important for the future career of young graduates. It would be logical to assume then that only things such as ranking, accreditations, quality of courses and the efficiency of the career service would be the only conditions on students’ minds. Not a bit of it. 45% of the students replied that the prospect of a few weekends skiing or snowboarding had an influence on their choice in coming to Grenoble.

At first sight this would seem rather illogical or short sighted to say the least. Classic economist theory tells us that human beings should make decisions that have a positive long term effect on their well-being. Of course, we all know that not to be true. Even a 10 year old can work out that staying up late will leave him in a bad state the next day for school. That won’t stop him negotiating with his parents every night when bedtime comes around. Everyone who smokes knows that it causes cancer. That doesn’t seem to deter millions of people from doing it though. And of course, anyone who has ever fallen in love knows that there is a lot of irrational stuff going on. If your partner ever asks you why you chose her/him one answer you definitely DON’T want to give is:

“Well, I wrote down a list of 10 potential candidates and you got the highest overall score for beauty, intelligence, humour, future earning ability etc. Actually, you’re not very attractive, but I decided that the other criteria compensated for this.”

It would certainly be a logical answer, though you may find yourself having to go back to the list rather quickly to find a replacement.

On the beauty of being irrational

Irrational or short term choices are discussed in two excellent books by Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality. (Follow the links for my reviews of the books). The basic theme is that we often sacrifice long term gain for short term benefit. (Smoking is a prime example here.) What is great about the books is that apart from being really fun to read, Mr. Ariely doesn’t moralise. He just gives the results of various experiments that he has done.

Irrational students

Professors may hope that students will leave their university with fond memories of their courses on finance and marketing, but we know instinctively that the extra curricular activities are far more memorable for them. And that includes weekends on the ski slopes. (One assumes that skiing is not the only reason that the students come and study here. If it was then the Everest School of Management would have put us all out of business by now.)

Teaching the not so rational can even be good for professors. After all, who really wants to teach a class full of future Dr. Spocks? For sure, they would be easy to control, but there wouldn’t be any of those wonderful stories that students can make up when they don’t get their assignments in on time!

Acting on feeling   

Human beings don’t always make rational decisions. Sometimes then, we act on the basis of feeling alone.  However young or old we are, there may be times when we do things on impulse. But making irrational decisions is precisely what makes us human. They are often the moments when it feels great to be alive. Let’s hope then, those skiers enjoy their time on the slopes, before getting back to the warmth of the classroom and the realities of the real world.


Mark Thomas   Grenoble EM   ESC Grenoble  GGSB  Strategy  Blog  Global Ed  International Affairs in Higher Education  Business School 

1 Comment

Filed under Business Schools, Higher Education, Management, Strategy

One response to “Snow Patrol and the art of making irrational decisions

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions « Wandering Mirages

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