The problem is choice

Like most people choice can be a bit of a problem for me, especially if I have too much.

Examples (random)

  • Driving to see family over the festive period I knew the route I wanted to take, and was familiar with. Several times I ignored the satnav as I knew a shortcut (maybe not the quickest route, but perhaps the smoothest or less congested route). At one point I was unsure of myself but was certain I’d take the 3rd exit on a roundabout. Satnav, and my wife, were saying the 2nd exit was shorter and quicker. I took their advice, but that ended up being the smaller, twistier, and more ‘local’ roads and the route I was thinking of would have been the lightly longer but better route. I made the wrong choice. I took too long,
  • I have some money and vouchers to spend, and it’s not an insubstantial amount (for me). I’ve been browsing a well-known website and adding various things to my cart and wishlist, second-guessing myself about this or that. After days of changing my mind and re-adding something I’d previously removed, then changing my mind again I still haven’t completed any of it. There’s nothing wrong with what I’m looking at (more records for my collection), but I’m thinking ‘do I really need that’ or ‘ooh, nice limited edition version of something I’ve already got’, but I don’t need it. Just get on with it!!

There are two things wrong here … (1) I should be better at making my mind up and sticking to it, and (2) if I had fewer choices, decisions would be easier to make. Surely?

Bringing this to a work-a-day dilemma, more choice in the systems we use, which VLE/LMS we want to change to, or managing a meeting and message makes it harder, not easier to decide on the route ahead.

If any of us are presented with five to ten options we will look for the best we can get, even if some or all of the choices are closely matched – which is where the difficulty comes in as most of the options would be a good choice to make, but it’s made more difficult as there is no clear outright ‘best’ option. We are disposed to get the best we can out of a deal – the gap between a £20.00 bottle of wine and £40.00 bottle is easy to see, but between £19.99 and £20.00 … ?? Which are you going to like more?

You want a new LMS or project tool and you’ve looked over the feature list and can’t see anything major that can differentiate between the top providers. Which do you opt for? The fees and terms are comparable and the number of accounts or level of support is evenly matched. But you still want to find out which is the ‘better’ choice, when in truth you know any of them would be good and work for you.

In this instance, and with many like it, making no choice is the wrong choice. By deliberating longer you make it harder, and by not making a choice you spend longer not developing or growing with this new tool and you stay embedded in the old way of doing things. Just make a choice, use the 7-day free trial and just do it.

This is, I’ve heard, called the ‘Paradox of Choice’. Penned by Barry Schwartz in 2006, this is essential that “choice is good for us, but its relationship to satisfaction appears to be more complicated than we had assumed.”

There is diminishing marginal utility in having alternatives; each new option subtracts a little from the feeling of well-being, until the marginal benefits of added choice level off … More [choice] requires increased time and effort and can lead to anxiety, regret, excessively high expectations, and self-blame if the choices don’t work out. When the number of available options is small, these costs are negligible, but the costs grow with the number of options. Eventually, each new option makes us feel worse off than we did before.

Choice can no longer be used to justify a marketing strategy in and of itself. More isn’t always better, either for the customer or for the retailer. Discovering how much assortment is warranted is a considerable empirical challenge.

‘More isn’t always better’ by Barry Schwartz

PS. Happy New Year. Here’s planning for a better 2023 than 2022. For me, it’s a new job, a new attitude, and a new approach to conflict and disruption. And maybe another book, but that’s another story.

Let’s see how we can make the best of 2023.

Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash