Understanding People’s Irrational Behavior with Eric Bailey

The way you see the world may be different from how other people do. Sometimes, it takes stepping back to see things more clearly. This is what Eric Balley believes in. With a Master’s degree in Leadership and Organizational Development from Saint Louis University, Eric is the president of Bailey Strategic Innovation Group, a successful communication consulting firm in the USA. For Eric, it’s essential that we start asking people why they are so passionate about their argument more than trying to validate or invalidate their opinion, and try to understand why they care so much. He dives into the importance of having empathy and putting yourself in other people’s shoes and talks about how to deal with people with irrational behavior properly.

TTL 437 | Irrational Behavior


We have Eric Bailey. He is the Cofounder and President of Bailey Strategic Innovation Group. He’s got a book. It’s going to be interesting to talk to Eric because he’s all about the mind, the things that impact perception and all the things I’m interested in.

Listen to the podcast here

Understanding People’s Irrational Behavior with Eric Bailey

I am here with Eric Bailey, who’s the Cofounder and President of Bailey Strategic Innovation Group. He has a uniquely diverse set of experiences including helping future NFL Hall of Famer, Larry Fitzgerald, pet a rhinoceros, teaching dozens of young children to ski and changing the strategic course of cities across the country. Jumping out of an airplane with his wife, flying an F-16 and chatting with LL Cool J on the campus of Harvard University. He’s got a book, The Cure For Stupidity: Using Brain Science To Explain Irrational Behavior At Work. We have a lot of things in common. He lives ten minutes from me. My family grew up in Saint Louis. He went to Saint Louis University. He talks about Annie Duke, who was on my show. He focuses on brain science, culture and innovation, which are all up my alley. I’ve been looking forward to this. Welcome, Eric.

Thank you very much, Diane. It’s a pleasure to be here.

I watched the talk that you gave to the women’s group. I’m fascinated by anything that’s brain-related that goes into making organizations more innovative and that’s exactly what you focus on. I’m curious to get a little backstory on you. You did go to Saint Louis University. I saw that on your LinkedIn.

I got my Master’s in Leadership and Organizational Development from SLU. The way I got excited about the brain is one of my professors, Dr. Matthew Grawitch is an organizational psychology researcher and he works with the APA. He got me excited about learning about how psychology plays a role in our behaviors. I got excited about reading boring research papers and I would be excited to translate them to other people around me. People said, “I never knew that.” I realized I had a knack for translating that psychology jargon into real human behavior and I built a business around it.

My degrees are similar to yours. I minored in Organizational Management. You look at behaviors and all that ties into psychology. That’s why I was excited when I got to interview Albert Bandura. You hear about these people and then when you talk to them. It’s amazing the shaping they’ve done of what we understand about our minds. Even in my research for my last book on curiosity, I included a lot of work from the mindset. What you did do is you showed a fascinating video which I loved. I want to get into that. You got your Master’s in Psychology, but what other jobs have you had before this? What’s your background as far as that goes?

I’ve had a Forrest Gump background of careers. Another thing we have in common is one of your guest, Dr. John Kotter. I worked for him for a year in Kotter International Consulting Firm. Working in his firm, he taught me much about how to do consulting in a different way. Instead of the consultant coming in and scooping up a bunch of information, reporting it back to the organization the information they already know. His philosophy is, “Let’s go in there and let’s give them something they can’t quite see yet.” After a year of working there, I branched off onto my own and started my own consulting firm. It’s all based on helping people see that which they cannot see.

It’s made a big difference. What he taught me was how to see the work differently and how to make the work feel differently for the clients. It’s made a big difference. Before working for Dr. Kotter, which was a tremendous experience, I was doing organizational development for a healthcare firm out here in Phoenix. I got a lot of opportunities to watch it not go well and to watch the organization not care much about culture, see where it landed and focused on chasing the dollars. I got to see how it could work poorly. Getting to learn how to shape that when the context isn’t strong for a positive change and getting other organizations on how to affect change when the context is a little more conducive to change.

[bctt tweet=”Learn to pay attention to what other people are paying attention to.” username=””]

John Kotter is amazing. I’ve taught more than 1,000 business courses and in every one of them, he’s mentioned some text somewhere. He’s the god in business. I’m curious what things he taught you to see? What can’t they quite see yet? What kinds of things are those that he helped you with?

One of the things that he taught me is that people will get in their own way whenever they have the chance. The number one reason executives go to meetings is that they were invited, not because it has some strategic outcome. It’s because they were invited and they go. A lot of times, organizations will spend time doing the things that are in front of them instead of taking the time to focus on what is urgent. How do we inspire motion and action in the organization? There’s much need for that because we end up running around being busy all the time and comparing how busy we are. What Dr. Kotter taught me was how to help other people see what’s in front of them. What they need to be doing and how to activate that in their organizations. There are a couple of specific ways he’s done that over the course of his amazing career. The number one thing I heard from clients as I was working for him is, “This feels different.” People kept saying this all the time, “This process feels different.” Every time I heard it, it hit me right in the heart because we’re creating a different environment for people to interact with work. As I started my own firm, I’ve held tight to that. I want every interaction with my clients to feel different as well so I try to design for that.

Did you go to Harvard? What was your connection to get connected to Kotter?

I met a former colleague of his. Through totally serendipitous circumstances, I ended up going to coffee with him. I was introduced by somebody. We sat and we were talking. We planned for an hour-long coffee and we were talking for about three hours. We connected. My intention after leaving that coffee was, “I have an opportunity to gain a mentor here. This is someone who’s walked down the path I intend to walk down through organizational development and has wonderful connections. I would love to know more about what he does.” When I reached out to him via email to say, “Thank you much, I’d love to stay connected,” he forwarded my information to Dr. Kotter directly. It was totally serendipitous, but one of the comments was he said, “This guy reminds me of a young version of me. You should take a look.” I went through the process and I was out in Boston interviewing. I hit it off with everybody there. I got to interview with eight different people over the course of a day. We had deep philosophical alignment. Everything they were trying to do for the world is who I am. I was thrilled even to be a part of the consideration. A couple of days later, they invited me to join the team and I was over the moon.

How did you get back to Phoenix then? Were you originally from here? Where are you from originally?

I’m originally from Seattle. I moved down to Phoenix to run track at Arizona State. I was on the track team. I grew roots. Once I graduated ASU, I stuck around. I met my wife and we got a mortgage and some kids. We have roots here. When I was working for Kotter, we were traveling all over North America. I needed to be close to the international airport. I’ve stayed here the whole time.

TTL 437 | Irrational Behavior
The Cure for Stupidity: Using Brain Science to Explain Irrational Behavior

What was your degree at ASU?

It was graphic design. In the Forrest Gump path of my career, I started in marketing and web design. From that process, I learned to pay attention to what other people are paying attention to. As I was doing that process, at this healthcare firm, the vice president of organizational development pulled me aside and said, “Your interaction with other people is on a whole different level than everybody else.” He introduced me to the concept of OD, Organizational Development, which I didn’t know was a thing. The more I dove into it, I realized, “This is who I am.” I went to him looking for guidance, I said, “I’m looking to start my MBA.” He said, “Why would you do that?” I said, “That’s what you’re supposed to do.” He said, “Why don’t you consider a Masters of OD?” I was like, “I didn’t even know that was a thing.”

I did some research and that’s how I ended up at SLU. It was a cool process. I started the program and in the middle of my program, I got introduced to Dr. Kotter and started with that firm. In every one of my classes, we were reading an article or a book written by Dr. Kotter and we’re supposed to share with the class our interpretations of it. I said, “Would you like me to talk with him? Can I ask him?” The first time I had breakfast with Dr. Kotter he sat me down and said, “If you’re willing, I will teach you more in six months than you’ll get in your entire Master’s program.” I said, “Bring it. Teach me. I am willing to learn.” He held true to that. He taught me a bunch.

I’ve had many great Harvard professors on my show. I’ve had Francesca Gino and many people that you learn in an hour you talk to them like Ellen Langer. It’s so much fun. That’s the best part about doing this job. I went to ASU. I figured if you were in business school. What you’ve done is a lot of what I’m interested in. I see that when you gave your talk, in the one I watched at least, you talked about some important things about how we think. You mentioned Carol Dweck and Mindset. I used her work in my work on curiosity. People think they can’t do something and you said, “You haven’t been able to do it yet.” I like the way you added that because I don’t hear people say it quite like that. How do you get people out of that fixed mindset if they’ve always had it and get them to be having more of a growth mindset?

The best way and this is another one of Kotter’s words that he uses a lot is unlock. How do you unlock people from that way of thinking? What I’ve found through my experimentation, in my work, is if you can give people insight to how their brains work through some experience, then when that same barrier or issue comes up for them, they will be able to see it anew. I’ve created this series of principles that I call the Principles of Human Understanding. They’re essentially an amalgamation of a bunch of neuroscience and psychology principles that when put together, people can see themselves.

In situations where they’re either in an argument with a co-worker or argument with a spouse, when they find that they’re frustrated about someone’s common sense. What I found is if we can walk them through the process of seeing themselves and when they come up to it again, they can already see it a different way and take a different behavior choice. When we talk about growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, if we walk people through an experience of seeing how they see the world and have always seen the world and will continue to see it that way. The next time they’re brought up to the phrase I always say is, “That’s the way it’s always been done.” Whenever they hear themselves say that, they’ll catch themselves and take a step back and say, “It could be something different.” I’ve got a number of exercises when I work with a group to give them visibility to themselves and how their brains work.

There’s so much status quo thinking. That’s what I was trying to get away from when I was researching curiosity because I kept thinking, “What is holding people back?” A lot of it is because they don’t realize these factors. A lot of research went into my Curiosity Code Index because I wanted to find out how we can fix this. Not whether you’re curious or not, but why aren’t you? What’s holding you back? I found fear, assumptions, technology and the environment were the four things. Assumptions are what you’d say in your head. What you tell yourself or sometimes we say it out loud, that’s the way it’s always been done. That’s a killer because that’s status quo thinking.

It’s powerful because the way we see the world is the way we expect the world to be. Moreover, the way we see the world is the way we expect everyone else to see the world. When we get stuck in that status quo thinking, then when someone presents something that’s outside of what we see, our reaction sometimes is visceral that, “You’re wrong. You must be wrong. How could you possibly see it that way?” In my research, that phrase, “How could you possibly see it that way? How could you possibly think that was okay?” the underlying subtext of that is you’re an idiot. We never say it out loud, but we think it. We think it hard and it comes through.

You see a lot of times when we say that phrase, “How could you possibly?” The easiest example is with spouses or children and they get defensive. The reason they’re getting defensive is that we’re challenging that status quo, we’re challenging their intelligence thinking, “You’re an idiot.” You can find there are many times when we want people to move forward and all they can see is, “I want to stay here, but I don’t see you as staying here a problem.” We have that conflict there where we see them as stupid. That’s why the title of my book there. We see them as stupid and then we have that argument of, “Everything’s fine. I like it this way,” but then give them five minutes and they’ll start complaining.

There are a lot of problems out there in terms of people needing to hold the sign as they used to say, “Here’s your sign,” on the stupid things people do. I love the title of your book, The Cure For Stupidity: Using Brain Science To Explain Irrational Behavior At Work. What I’m interested in my research is I have all this research on curiosity, but I’m also interested in perception. We build this perception and we expect other people to see our same perception. How do we change that? Not change our perception so much as have an understanding of everyone else’s perception. Everybody understands that everybody’s reality is what they make it.

[bctt tweet=”The way we see the world is the way we expect the world to be.” username=””]

It’s an exercise in exposure. I’ve been teaching this stuff for years and I still struggle with someone who perceives the world differently than me. As I work with organizations, I want to give them the experience of seeing the world from someone else’s point of view. I do and I bait them into it. It’s a trap. As we go through it, one of the things I tell people all the time is this phrase, “Perception equals reality is a lie,” because perception doesn’t equal reality. If you look at the definitions, perception is a way of interpreting something or understanding something. Whereas reality, the definition is the state of things as they exist rather than as they may be perceived or imagined.

In the definition of reality, it says not perception. When you think of it, “What does that mean for me in life?” My perception is my reality. I’ve heard that a lot. What does that mean? That means that my perception is my worldview. My perception is the way I believe the world to be. My perception guides my behavior because if the room is set at 67.9 degrees and I perceive it to be cold, then I will fold my arms or I’ll put on a jacket. My perception changes my behavior. When you think about it, it’s not that perception equals reality. It’s that perception is more important than reality. As we start to do more research and dive deeper into context and understanding, we can realize that each one of us has a different set of experiences and therefore different perception on the world.

I bait people into paying attention to this is I walk people through this exercise. I’m going to go through it with you. There’s this phrase that the Millennials are saying all the time and it drives me nuts. I’m sure it drives you nuts too. They say things like, “She literally died.” You hear this all the time or like, “His body was literally worn to the bone.” Why does that phrase bother us? It bothers us because they’re using it wrong. Literally means in a literal sense or manner. It used to describe something actually there. It bothers us because they’re using it wrong. We say like, “How could you possibly? How could you possibly use it that way?”

One thing a lot of people don’t know is that there’s a second definition in the dictionary of the word literally. It means in effect or virtually used to add emphasis to a sentence. The second definition of the word literally is figuratively. We struggle with this like, “That can’t be true. That must be the new Millennial definition of it.” The funny thing is the second example I gave you, “His body was literally worn to the bone,” that was written down by Charles Dickens in 1839. We have this way of perceiving the world or perceiving the words we use that they mean this and those are fixed things. There might be other perceptions outside of the way we see it. That may cause someone else to interact with the world differently. When that happens, it causes cognitive dissonance for us. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the Laurel or Yanny thing, that audio clip or the blue, black or white and gold dress of 2015 and all these different things.

It’s where what you see, what you hear versus someone else.

You end up sitting right next to someone who you’re like, “I know you. You should be able to see what I see.” It causes cognitive dissonance. Those couple of examples are acute reminders that we perceive things differently than other people. It’s not when it happens because it will always happen. When that happens in our lives, that cognitive dissonance causes us to label them as idiots or stupid. That can be detrimental to trying to achieve some outcomes in the future.

It’s the biggest issue when you go across cultures and if you wanted to start a company in another country or another country you must do business with, the United States or whatever it is. If you’re trying to get a level playing field, is that possible if everybody’s perception’s different?

TTL 437 | Irrational Behavior
Irrational Behavior: If you can give people insight to how their brains work through some experience, when that same barrier or issue comes up for them, they will be able to see it anew.


Going into it, if you can hold in the back of your mind the way you see the world is not the way they will see the world and then hear them. This is quite poignant for this time in life we’re experiencing in the world is we’ve got the red and we’ve got the blue. We’ve got a red team and blue team and they end up debating on every single possible issue they can. If something is raised by the red team and the blue team automatically doesn’t like it. If an idea is raised by the blue team, the red team automatically doesn’t like it. Where we have an opportunity to go in understanding that perceptions are different. Anytime you’re arguing with somebody and you say, “You’ve got to be kidding me. How could you possibly think that?” They believe that they are 100% rational.

In their mind, they’re coming at it from, “All of my facts makes sense to me. Everything is logical.” What we want to do is jump in and tell them why they’re wrong, why their facts are inaccurate. The more productive approach is taking a step back and trying to understand why would a perfectly rational person say that? Ask them, “Why are you so passionate about your argument?” Instead of trying to validate their opinion or invalidate their opinion, try to understand why they care so much. I guarantee you’re going to find the rationality behind it. Once you do that, you can hear their argument in a different way.

It’s a lot like the religious thing with politics. You always hear, “You can’t argue with politics and religion.” There are certain things in the business world where you’re going to have to talk about. If it’s based on their political beliefs or it’s based on their religious beliefs, how do you get these people to realize that, “I see what you see, but how do I get you to see what I see?” If I’m open to it and they’re not, I understand they’ve got a different perception, but how do I get them to care about your perception?

What I found and it’s tough to step into, is the more you exhibit the behavior, the more likely they will follow your model. I have a family member and we are diametrically opposed politically. We almost got to the point where we were clicking the unfriend button because we were challenging each other so much. There’s a huge epidemic, the unfriend, “I don’t want to deal with you or your kind anymore.” What we decide to do is I took the conversation to a more private space and I asked him, “Why do you feel passionate about this?”

We were pretty contentious going back and forth. It took a while for him to give me a genuine answer. Once he did, I was like, “That makes sense to me.” I don’t agree with it still. I don’t agree with the conclusion you came to, but the way you got there makes sense to me. Every time something came up for us, I kept saying that same question, “Why are you passionate about it?” I got down to the why beneath his argument. Eventually, he started asking me the same thing. He would ask me, “As a young man, how do you feel about this?” I said, “Let me explain it to you.” We started to explain from our different positions to each other. He started caring about my perception after I took the first step a couple of times, then he started to model after me. Now, we have this tremendous respect for one another, still disagree on a lot of things but we do so with deeply-seated respect.

I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence. You have to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. You have to develop empathy. I also think it’s critical thinking skills of being able to take all the information and come to a conclusion in a rational way. Not everybody can do that very well. In the business world, there’s a big opportunity for people to learn these skills. I’m glad that you talk about this stuff because it’s important. Your video that you played for the crowd, I thought it was an interesting look at how people will conform based on what other people are doing. Was it Jonah Berger who came out and talked about social learning exercise?

The video comes from the TV show Brain Games on National Geographic. There’s a dentist or eye doctor’s waiting room. There are maybe a dozen folks in there. Eleven of the dozen are actors. One of them is the mark. The twelfth person is the mark. She has no idea what’s going on and she thinks she’s there for an eye exam. There is a bell that rings throughout the entire waiting room and when that bell rings, all eleven of the actors stand up and stay standing for a second or two and then sit back down. The first time it happens you can see the girl confused, “What’s going on? Why is this happening?” After the third time or so, she starts standing up with the rest of the group.

[bctt tweet=”Perception equals reality is a lie. It’s not that perception equals reality, it’s that perception is more important than reality.” username=””]

That would never be me. I would never do that. There’s a lot of research that shows that same thing happening over and over again. You see a bunch of people walking into an elevator and then turning the wrong way. You see the mark walk in and she’d be like, “Why is everyone facing the wrong way?” Eventually, they will turn around. That whole idea of social conformity is powerful because we have a deeply seated desire to fit in with the herd. When the herd is doing something that we don’t expect it to do, we have a choice to make. We can either let go of our desire to be part of the herd or we can join the herd. What a lot of this research shows is that more often than not, if there’s no real harm in doing so, we will join the herd even if we think it’s a ridiculous thing to do.

You think why every one of them would do it, as she ends up being the last one in the room, everybody gets called out. She still does it when no one else is there. As they add real people into the mix after she’s the only one left, they start doing it because she’s doing it. I find that fascinating. Do you ask yourself as you’re watching that? Most people were saying, “I wouldn’t do it,” but they all do.

If you change the environment, let’s say it’s not an eye doctor’s appointment and it’s not a waiting room. You think about some of the cultural things organizations do, that’s exactly what’s happening. Why do we do it this way? I was working with an organization and we were going through an exercise in identifying stupid rules. In this organization, they typically work 4:00 to 10:00, Monday through Thursday. There’s a rule that there’s no telecommuting on Mondays or Thursdays. At first glance, that makes sense when people don’t abuse it. If we care about outcomes and results, I don’t care where you do it, just get the work done.

Where did that rule come from? How long has it been there? It’s been in place for years. No one exactly knows why it started, but we can assume that someone probably abused it at the beginning and they were taking an extra-long weekend. I said, “Does anyone see what’s happening here? We’ve been doing something now for years because two people a few years ago did something wrong. Now we’ve got this rule that that’s become part of our culture.” We have a lot of things that happen like that in organizations where we stand up when the bell rings because that’s what we’ve always done. To bring it back to Dr. Kotter’s book, That’s Not How We Do It Here! Many things happen in organizations because that’s the way it’s always been done and now it’s part of our culture. Anyone that comes in, you stand up when the bell rings, “Do you know why we do this?” “I don’t know,” is one thing the girl says in the video, “I don’t know. This is what we were supposed to be doing. We keep doing it.”

She later said it made her feel comfortable. It’s almost reminded me of the Milgram Experiment, zapping the person on the other side because that’s what you think you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to listen to these people in authority. When you’re saying Kotter’s book, it reminded me of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Marshall Goldsmith has been on my show as well who wrote that. We do things and we think we always have to do things because of society and the norms. Watching that video was like watching Candid Camera, it’s almost a joke. They used to make fun of those things. All of this stuff must have led to your interest in writing your book, The Cure For Stupidity. I want to get into that because of the subtitle, Using Brain Science To Explain Irrational Behavior At Work. Explain what you consider irrational behavior.

The idea and this comes from my struggling through Economics 111 at ASU is the idea that given everything standard, the average person will behave rationally. I’ve spent time in HR. I spent time in marketing. I spent time in all these different areas and I see people acting irrationally more often than I see them behaving rationally. Why is this person upset at that person? It’s some misunderstanding. Why is this person hell-bent on making sure that their opinion rises to the top of the brainstorming session? That seems irrational to me. As I do executive coaching, people want to talk with me about all the irrational things all the people around them are doing.

We talk about this whole idea of your perception versus their perception when you see someone doing something in a way you don’t expect it, it seems irrational. That’s the resolution of the book without giving it away. The resolution of the book is the cure for stupidity isn’t curing them. Is it changing their behavior? The cure is understanding why they behave the way they do and we see them differently. All of a sudden, instead of they’re not stupid anymore, we’re not teaching them anything. All we’re doing is differently labeling their behavior. That brings a lot of peace when you go around and you don’t need to pay attention to all the “idiots” around you, all of a sudden you can have a different experience of life when you don’t have to worry about all that.

TTL 437 | Irrational Behavior
Irrational Behavior: The whole idea of social conformity is powerful because we have a deeply seated desire to fit in with the herd.


When I was writing my dissertation, I became certified to give the EQI and some different assessments, MBTI. Different ones because I know it was interesting to take a few of them. I know a lot of people aren’t big fans of certain ones and especially self-assessment or whatever. They don’t see the need for it. A lot of them are helpful because they do give you an appreciation for not what you are so much because you know that. That’s what other people are. You get that sense of peace because I can remember doing the MBTI training and they’d put everybody who was a certain type on one side of the room and the opposite on the other side of the room. They go, “Who feels better if you can do this?”

Everybody on the opposite side of the room put their hand up and you’d look at them they’re like, “Why?” It was the T versus F dichotomy. It was thinking versus feeling. I had a zero on the feeling scale. I didn’t ever see that rating before. That probably says a lot about me. Basically, you’re basing your decisions on facts, figures and different things. The feeling people are more value-oriented. The thing they asked them was, “How many of you would like it when somebody bakes you cookies and brings them to you?” They all put their hands up and I’m thinking, “I don’t want anybody to bake me cookies.”

It helped me realize that these people, it meant a lot to them to have people baking them cookies. It would have in a million years in your bottom corner of your square you showed on your video, you don’t know what you don’t know. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Once you know what you don’t know, you can open up your mind. I may still not care if somebody brings me cookies, but I certainly appreciate that somebody else wants cookies. If that’s what it takes for us to work together and to make them feel comfortable, I’ll bake them cookies. It’s something to address. I brought up that square that you had on your screen and you talk about four different quadrants. I’d like to talk about that if you wouldn’t mind because that’s an important thing you discussed with that group.

I highlight in the book, it’s called The Competence Matrix. Along one side, you have awareness or conscience. Up and down, we have competence or skill level. It gives us four quadrants, things you’re competent at and you’re aware of. All the way around, things that you’re aware of but incompetent at, etc., and things you are incompetent and unaware of. The bottom was things you don’t know that you don’t know. You don’t know, meaning you’re incompetent, you’re unskilled. You don’t know, meaning you’re unaware that you’re unskilled.

When you see those four boxes, what happens is when something comes up to you in that box four of which you don’t know, you don’t know where you’re unconsciously incompetent at, it usually comes through some feedback or observation. When that happens, it feels like a personal attack because your ego doesn’t know that problem exists. When someone brings it up to you, it can hurt. It feels painful. Our brain will have the same firing areas of physical pain. What we have to do is learn how to move out of that by receiving that feedback and say, “Where is the truth in what they’re saying? Do I tend to be a little more disorganized?” or whatever the thing is.

We move into an area where we are consciously incompetent or we know that we don’t know. I know that I’m incompetent in the organization. I need to be more organized. I know that. I’m aware and I’m bad at this. Now, I can go through some training to get better at it, but only when we’re aware of it can we take action steps to do so. Once we get to that, I’m aware and I’m good at it. I’m organized and I know how to do it, but it’s not to the level of mastery yet. That’s where we get back to the top box where we are unconsciously competent. We don’t even need to think about it but we’re good at it, it’s automatic.

For example, it’s things like driving. If you’ve ever had the experience of driving down the road and blacking out for five minutes like, “How did I get here?” or driving home, it’s because driving you’re so good. You’ve done it for so long, you don’t have to think about it. It doesn’t require your conscious brain and you can do it. When you think about that piece of going from that unconscious incompetence to being aware of it, being consciously incompetent, that step is difficult for people because of ego. Our ego wants us to believe we already know. We’re already good at everything, everything is perfect. We are perfect. Whenever something challenges that, it starts to trigger our fight or flight response and our liver starts pumping out glucose and pumping out adrenaline. That step, if we can practice and learn getting feedback without having that physiological response, we can become better much faster.

[bctt tweet=”More often than not, if there’s no real harm in doing so, we will join the herd even if we think it’s a ridiculous thing to do.” username=””]

I do an exercise in making people aware of that ego. I’m going to walk you through it. Anyone reading, you’re welcome to walk through. You can grab a pen and paper. Everyone knows what a bicycle looks like. What I want you to do is on your paper, I want you to draw a bicycle. One thing I experienced in research, most adults can’t draw a functional bicycle. If you look at your bicycle, it probably is missing a lot of things. It’s either missing the pedals. It’s missing handlebars. It’s missing a chain. The frame, is it connected properly? What most people experience as they go through that process is this gut sinking feeling of, “Something’s missing.” That experience is a concept that I call the illusion of certainty. When I asked you, “Do you know what a bike looks like?” your brain instantly responds, “Yes, I am certain I know what a bike looks like.” Put to the challenge, we experience that illusion of certainty fading away because our brains like to project certainty. What happens is that is our ego stepping up.

I’m aware of the overall shape of a bicycle. When asked a question about that, “Yes, I am certain I know what a bicycle looks like. Maybe I don’t.” It’s an icky feeling. That illusion of certainty will come back a lot of times because as adults, people ask us questions all the time and being intelligent adults, it’s our job to answer those questions. The illusion of certainty will come in and make us feel more confident in our answers than we should be. That can get us in trouble a lot, especially when we’re dealing with an argument or someone else has a different perspective, “The way I see the world is the way it is. I know it for a fact.” We start arguing and debating. In reality, it’s the way we think it is. Our brain locks us in there.

That exercise reminds me of something we did in the Myers-Briggs Training as well. You’d have to have somebody draw something. How you had me draw, instead of saying draw a bicycle, I would have a picture of a bicycle and I’d tell you, “Take the line and go draw a circle and then draw a line from that circle.” I’d describe how to draw a bicycle to you. That was interesting to see what people came out because you think it’s going to be easy to tell someone how to draw something simple. When you see how unclear our instructions could be on the other end when the picture comes out and you go, “I guess I’m not as clear as I thought I was.”

It’s powerful. Seeing how perception versus reality is important when it comes to human communication. It’s like, “I said this.” It doesn’t matter what you said. It matters what I heard, what they perceive is what’s going to translate to their behaviors. That drawing of a couple of random shapes isn’t what you intended, it wasn’t what you said or what you meant to say. All they can operate on is their perceptions of it. I had a former mentor of mine, his name is Randy. He walked me through Myers-Briggs and gave me this wonderful example of the dichotomy between the thinkers and the feelers. He said, “If you were the manager for a Little League baseball team. It’s let’s say a group of kids from all over the city, the poor parts and the rich parts. Your team is a nice mix of people. Some of your kids have traveled out of the country before. Some of your kids have never left hometown. You get a phone call that your team has done so well that you can select three players to go to Japan for the Little League World Series. Which three players do you choose?” As a T, it’s an easy decision for you. For all of the F’s that are reading, they’re probably sweating trying to figure it out. As a thinker, how would you decide?

You’d look at their statistics.

It’s clear to you.

I get that you feel sorry for somebody.

TTL 437 | Irrational Behavior
Irrational Behavior: As adults, people ask us questions all the time, and being intelligent adults, it’s our job to answer those questions.


For the feelers and I am more on the feeler side, I don’t want to make that decision. I want to send the kid who never has a chance to go to Japan or what about that kid who tried hard? Every time I encounter a thinker is like, “That’s an easy decision. Use the data.” Every time I turn to the feelers, they’re gnawing on their fingernails to be having to get out of it.

I must have more F than that test shows because I do have that. I have that feeling. I hate to have somebody be left out. Do you remember what your type was?

I am an INFP.

That is interesting because we have everything similar, yet I am an ESTJ, which is the exact opposite of you.

My wife and my mother are both ESTJs.

I’m curious how you became connected to Larry Fitzgerald and all the people at the beginning, LL Cool J and all this stuff you did. How did you get into that?

I was at Harvard and Professor Kotter was doing an executive session for a bunch of leaders from a large organization. He invited us to come and sit in on it. It was an amazing experience to get to be at Harvard Business School and watch him teach. When the session was over, there are a few of us from the firm that was there, and we went and walked through campus. In the next classroom over, they were doing some celebrity business lecture. Channing Tatum was there, LL Cool J was there, Chris Paul from the Houston Rockets was there. A bunch of like, “What are they doing here?” They got on break two minutes after we got on break. I saw these guys streaming past me.

[bctt tweet=”Our ego wants us to believe we already know.” username=””]

The cool part about the story and I don’t usually tell this. The day I was there, my mother-in-law was undergoing surgery. She was at that moment under anesthesia and she was having major cancer surgery. She’s good now. She’s been in remission for years. She is a huge LL Cool J fan. She watches him on NCIS. I mustered my courage and I went up to him. I said, “Mr. Smith, my mother-in-law is a huge fan of yours and she’s going through surgery. Is there any way that you would say a quick message to her?” He was like, “No problem.” I quickly got out my phone and he gave the sweetest, kindest message to her and said, “Carla, everything’s going to be fine. I’ll be praying for you.” It was the sweetest thing. When she woke up from anesthesia, we shared the video and she lost it.

Larry Fitzgerald, I mentioned my Forrest Gump experiences. One of my first jobs was working at the Phoenix Zoo. I worked my way up through the organization. At one point, I was the online marketing manager. I was doing all the social media. As part of that, I would do a lot of behind the scenes tours. Typically, when celebrities would come through, they would get assigned an animal keeper that would take them behind the scenes. For whatever reason, all the keepers were busy. They asked me to do it. I said, “I would love to.” I didn’t know who it was, but I go and I picked Larry Fitzgerald and his son. I gave them a cool behind the scenes tour. I was friends with all the keepers, and the rhino keeper let us go behind the scenes and pet the rhinos through the bars and everything. That was a cool experience because I got to share this super unique experience with someone who I hold on this high pedestal. I’m a huge football fan, but to see him in this place of wonder with this gigantic animal, that’s one of the experiences.

One of the coolest ones is flying in an F-16. I am in the 2018-2020 Class of the Honorary Commanders at Luke Air Force Base. I’ve done a lot of work with the Air Force and with Luke Air Force base over the last couple of years. As a thank you, because I did a lot of stuff pro bono, they put me up in an F-16. We take off and we’re going 400 miles an hour and there will be lift off and we go straight up. Imagine the craziest rollercoaster times ten. We went faster than the speed of sound at one point. Damon who was flying me allowed me to take the stick. I did barrel rolls. He let me fly the plane, which was cool. The loops, the flying and Gs didn’t get me, it was the vibration. I didn’t let go in flight, but when we landed we were going fast, we were bumping, vibrating fast on the runway. The plane was rolling along bumping a lot, that’s when I threw up. I can say I made it through the flight, but the taxiing was too much for me.

This has been wonderful to have you on the show, Eric. I was looking forward to this. You do a great job with your speaking. I could see why people hire you so much because you are engaging. I’m sure a lot of people are going to want to know how to find you, how they can get your book and how they can learn more about you. Is there anything you’d like to share as far as links?

My book is coming out in May, but I had been working with my publisher and because there had been so much interest in it, we got it on presale. It’s on pre-sale at Amazon. All you have to do is go to TheCureForStupidity.com. That will take you straight there if you’re interested in the book. If you want to know more about me or the firm, you can go to EricMBailey.com. You can see some of the videos Diane was talking about are there. You can see there’s a video of me flying the F-16 in there. I have a series of two-minute leadership lectures that I do called The Walking Meeting and you can find that at TheWalkingMeeting.com. There’s a lot of fun in the world, but I think that if we take the opportunity to explore that which is fun for us, we can start to make a difference in the world in unique ways. Giving ourselves the latitude to go and do interesting things, the world would be much more interesting.

What you’re doing is amazing work and I enjoyed having you on the show, Eric. Thank you so much.

Thank you.

I want to thank Eric for being my guest. We get many great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any of them, you can find them at DrDianeHamiltonRadio.com and there are many past episodes. We’ve mentioned a few of them with Dr. Kotter and others, but many great guests. If you want information about Cracking The Curiosity Code or the Curiosity Code Index, you can find that at CuriosityCode.com. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Eric Bailey

TTL 437 | Irrational BehaviorEric Bailey is the co-founder and president of Bailey Strategic Innovation Group. He has a uniquely diverse set of experiences, including helping future NFL Hall-of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald pet a rhinoceros; teaching dozens of young children to ski; changing the strategic course of cities across the country; jumping out of an airplane with his wife; flying an F-16; and chatting with LL Cool J on the campus of Harvard University.

Eric understands that no matter what life puts in your path, there are lessons to be learned or stories to be told. He is the bestselling author of The Cure for Stupidity: Using Brain Science to Explain Irrational Behavior at Work.


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