IT is thought to be a rational world. A world of facts and logic, of analysis and methods. Yet in my experience IT is far from rational. We all believe we are rational people where in fact, in my opinion, we often are rationalizing our beliefs: ‘a process of constructing a logical justification for a belief, decision, action or lack thereof that was originally arrived at through a different mental process’ (wiki).

I’m not a psychologist and do not pretend to have a scientific prove for my statement that we all are rationalizing our beliefs. It is just my belief based on my personal experiences over the last 20 years.

Rationalization is what I used to do when I started my career. I thought I was very talented in logic and reasoning. I thought I was an excellent analyst and designer. That changed when my design decisions were challenged and I discovered that I couldn’t fully explain my choices. In the end it all came down to my personal believes about what was right and what wasn’t.  It wasn’t that my designs were flawed, it was that I fooled myself thinking that it was all logic, where in fact I was constructing a layer of logic around my personal beliefs.

The trouble with rationalization is that it makes your process of decision making less transparent, to others and to yourself. It creates friction in discussions with other people.  Time is wasted in defending unspoken assumptions and believes, while the other person cannot fully follow your logic and tries to determine why.

Rationalization also makes it difficult when to trust your intuition, to trust your gut. I believe using your intuition can be very important for effective decision making, especially in complex environments. But you need to know your mental state of mind to determine if you can trust your gut. Rationalization makes it difficult to determine your state of mind, especially where you have fears.

So here are my two rules to determine when to trust your gut:

  1. Trust your gut when you are relaxed, when things are smooth.
    Go with the flow.
  2. Do not trust your gut when you feel fear or pressure.
    Stop and think. Examine your initial instinctive response. Usually the right course of action lies in the opposite direction.

You can also apply both rules to other people. Especially in tense situations people have a habit of rationalizing their fears which leads to bad decision making. The problem in these situations is that most people won’t admit having fears, which forces you to discuss their flawed logic. The solution would be to create an environment with an open and fault tolerant culture.