Why did I decide to go to Peets this morning instead of Starbucks? Why am I writing this blog post instead of focusing on a client’s project, catching up on invoicing, or checking my email? Why did I decide to open my own firm when I was 24 instead of working for someone else?
All day long, nonstop, our brains are making decisions. Most of those are based on our emotional responses — even the most rational decisions we make after analyzing all the factors and coming to a logical conclusion. That 3-pound bag of neurons and dopamine that lives in our skulls is one hell of a computer. And learning how it works is utterly fascinating.
I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer (also available in paperback, of course). It’s an intriguing and engaging collection of anecdotes that make its scientific explanations clear as Pavlov’s bell. Faced with too many choices to process and only milliseconds to do it, how does a quarterback decide where to pass the ball while he’s being attacked by the other team’s linemen? How does a chess grandmaster use less energy than a lightbulb while competing with a computer like IBM’s Big Blue —which has to have coolers attached to it to keep it from bursting into flame? What kinds of decisions do people make whose orbital frontal cortex has been damaged so that their IQ remains the same, but they can no longer feel emotions?
Well-written, funny and insightful, “How We Decide” is, in a way, an owner’s manual for your brain. Somebody on your holiday list would love a copy.