Spinoza and why we do what we do

Why do we do, what we do? Do we use logic and our cognitive prowess or do we ignore these super powers in deference to other needs? Understanding the way our minds work and our decision making process is important for designing customer experiences, especially if we are doing so in a decision making environment, such as digital financial services.

Dutch philosopher Spinoza points us to an existentially terrifying idea. Much of our ordinary waking life is entirely pointless as are those things we seek; momentary pleasure-seeking, honours, and riches to satisfy one’s vanity. He goes further by saying that we often consciously act against our best interest, see the good but choose the bad, as our emotions take control of our decision making. By understanding that people need to feel like doing things, we should build experiences oriented around feeling. Making systems easy to use is obvious and utilitarian yet our customers and shareholders yearn for more. We are moving rapidly into an experience economy, where how customers experience your products and services is what counts the most if they are to be sticky, loyal advocates.

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) had a long battle with the Jewish faith, having been raised and then excommunicated by the Sephardic community in Amsterdam, following his publication of Tractatus Theological-Politicus, a significant criticism of religion and in particular Christianity.

But Spinoza wasn’t so much anti religion as he was pro reason. Whilst each of us might envision a life that is respectable and fulfilling to us and valuable to others, most of us, for the most part, fall short of this ideal. Spinoza believed that whilst some of us act according to reason unprompted, the population of such sages was negligible. As for the rest of us, we need to work hard at ensuring our emotions don’t take control of us. Why do we, have such a strong proclivity towards jealousy, resentment, ingratitude, chauvinism, spitefulness, and hatred? Why is it so hard for us to break free of these all-too-human tendencies?

Part of the problem Spinoza believes is our belief that we are special and have some control over our lives and need to defend this somehow. Spinoza would however agree with Simone De Beauvoir and her options about chaos. Both regard reality as deterministic, us all as rather un-special and that free will is an illusion. This is where he got into trouble with the Jewish community who would have us believe that there is an intentional order to existence. In contrast, Spinoza and De Beauvoir would suggest that reality is the product of an infinite and somewhat chaotic chain of causes and that accepting this aids our existential dilemma. In doing so it helps us act in our rational self-interest, to become the best person we can be and satisfied with that, rather than a dogmatic libertarian, caught up in the unjustness of it all.

This is all very good on paper but extremely hard to do unless you are one of the joyous but rare sages. And it is this that brings us to customer experience. In financial services, there is an increasing number of companies who wish to be on purpose and assist customers with their financial wellness. Indeed there are many potential customers who aspire to unlock the knowledge of finance professionals who understands the sorcery of money, the ability to act and think in a way that facilitates the creation of some financial ideal. If businesses were to operate in this manner, we would all become more useful to one another. Yet this is very difficult as evidenced by the lack of digital experiences that are centred on customer financial wellness at any scale.

The answer lies in recognising the very irrational nature of being. That we seek pleasure and honours to satisfy our vanity. We seek to be better than others. We seek to be proud of having figured something out, to have certainty and to be recognised as smart. We act based on how we feel. If we are to build sticky loyal customers on purpose, we are compelled to through away linear customer journeys based on some well laid out perfect plan and replace them with journeys that recognise that life is a maze, people get lost but that above all we need to feel good. This is where game becomes such a powerful design and delivery architecture.




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Digital is rapidly commoditising banking around the world, forcing participants to compete on margin erosion and funding. In the new engagement economy, there is an alternative: Harness the power of game to build digital experiences that deepen customer relationships, provide value and are relevant by supporting customers to thrive with their money.


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