The Irrational Mind and IT Design

The field of neuroscience has shifted in the past few years from assuming that people are inherently logical to the realization that impulses, emotion and the “alligator in the basement” of our brains often make our decisions for us. Rationality can be used to make decisions, when we choose to remove emotion from the equation or have no emotional investment in the outcome. How can the irrational mind be factored into IT design and software architecture?

  • Automate critical functions such as antivirus scans and system monitoring to ensure that humans cannot fail to perform them.
  • Use the rules of three in redundancy so that one human’s irrational decision is not the final decision. Is the IT report a sign of a hack attack? If one person says yes, forward the report to two more for a consensus decision.
  • Make the software architecture preferred choice the default. For example, at nightly log off, the default choice to save power would be shut down or hibernate, not simply “log off”.
  • Inform users when a process will impact them to reduce resentment after a surprise disruption. Giving users some control, such as the ability to delay a software push by an hour, minimizes the productivity losses while improving satisfaction because users gain some control over the process.
  • Emphasize the success rates or value of an enhancement in terms of “increasing up time from 99 to 99.9%”. Promote a security improvement as stopping 99.9999% of attacks, not describing the fraction that does get through the security measures.
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