• Elina Halonen

An irrational origin story


When we meet new people, we often get asked about the origins of the agency and especially our name so we thought it was time to tell this story.


Leigh and I met at a friend’s ugly jumper party in December 2011 – unusually for any party ever, the person who sat next to me actually knew what market research was! We ended up talking about the industry and behavioural science, and over the following months we collaborated on academic multi-country research project on sunk cost fallacy as well as presenting that research at international psychology conferences.


During that process, we came up with lots of ideas on how to improve how things were being done in market research and in the summer of 2012, we came up with a name: Irrational Agency.


For us, that name was perfect.


On the surface it reflected the discourse on irrationality, but there was a deeper meaning too. In economics and psychology, agency is used to describe behaviour: if someone is able to act, they have agency, and in economics people are called economic agents. So, this was the Irrational Agency studying the “irrational agency” of human beings – an inside joke that is lost on 99% of people but still makes me smile. ***


Although many people call us “the Irrationals” (which we love!), there are these days also other companies called just ‘irrational’ (without the agency) or unrelated companies with similar names like Irrational Labs (a non-profit affiliated to Duke University in the US) – both of which have emerged since we first started.


From the very beginning we have been driven by a passion to change the market research industry and encourage the adoption of more psychologically accurate research methods. In fact, that’s what we spent the first couple of years doing – tirelessly presenting at conferences around the world as well as writing for industry publications as well as presenting at psychology conferences to ensure we were truly tapping into the latest insights from behavioural science. In total, I have personally been to 25 academic psychology conferences in the past 6 years and 35 industry conferences – including presenting at 20 of them. Between us, Leigh and I have probably attended and presented at over 100 conferences in the past 6 years.


A couple of years ago the interest in applied behavioural science reached a tipping point in the industry with a definite shift to more mainstream adoption which meant we needed to build a team to help us with an increased volume of work. Since then, we have grown into an awesome team of ten – in our own way we are all a little bit irrational, and that makes it so rewarding to work together.


We have come a long way in six years – and what an irrational journey it has been!


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*** I should mention that we don’t fully believe consumers are ‘irrational’ – at least not in a judgmental way. Instead, we see human decision making as full of design features that evolved in a different time of our history when they made sense and helped us survive (i.e. ecologically rational). Our thinking reflects a balance between the so-called Heuristics & Biases school of thought, and the Fast and Frugal Heuristics/Adaptive Toolbox approach – but more about that another time!

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