Book to Read: Paradox of Choice

I watched a 20 minute video of the author of Paradox of Choice (Barry Schwartz) giving a presentation at the TED conference and it was enough to convince me to get the book.

The basic premise of the book is that TOO much choice leads to LESS satisfaction. In other words, More is Less.

He then proceeds to offer up a series of qualitative and quantitative studies to back up this point.

The example he uses to start off the book begins with his effort to buy a new pair of jeans.

Once upon a time, there was one kind of jeans and you just dealt with it.

Now, there are slim-fit, relaxed, stonewashed....yadda, etc.

The consequence of this, however, is raised expectations. The jeans, with all of the variables that are possible should be PERFECT. And, if they are not, you are bound to be disappointed.

Consequently, to avoid the expectation of future regret about your purchase of the wrong jeans, you over-analyze and spend way more time than is necessary to make sure you have made the right/best decision. This process causes stress and anxiety and afterwards, you may feel additional psychological pain due to the fact that you never really know if you made the best call.

The way to combat this, he offers, is to become a "satisficer." Someone who is content with "good enough" by a set of criteria (jeans that fit, don't make my butt look too big, can be put in the dryer, whatever...) instead of "the best" which is a combination of factors that will never occur since life always involves trade-offs. (As they say in the consulting business, we offer high quality, the best service, and the best price, but you can only have 2 of the 3).

The book taught me a ton about myself, human nature, and how people respond to choice and others (he spends a lot of time talking about our insatiable need to compare ourselves to peers.) He offers up study after study saying that people would rather make LESS money overall if they knew they were making MORE money than the people at work whose performance they think is inferior to their own.

In a conversation with John the other day, he said the exact SAME thing and we hadn't discussed the book. He was telling me about a co-worker whom he views as incompetent. John said, "I would rather make $25k less if I knew that that guy was making $25k less than I was..."

So John, and apparently many like him, are content with less actual money for the feeling of relative worth.

Pretty powerful stuff.

As a marketer, this is quite interesting as well and I've bookmarked many of the pages for future consideration, particularly items such as:

  • how many choices should you offer a customer? (when people are offered 3 samples of jam to test, they buy more often than when offered 8)
  • how do you do a pre-emptive strike against the anticipated buyer's remorse?
  • how do you convince someone that making the decision NOW is preferable to waiting?

There's a lot here for any student of psychology, human behavior, and marketing.

I probably need to read Paradox of Choice a few times to get the full meaning, but that would be ok w/me. I enjoyed it that much.

Comments (4)

  1. Doug says:

    If you really know what you want and not what somebody tells you that you want, you can often get a more satisfying experience by doing less analysis and buying whatever is cheaper.

    If you buy the "sizzle" you will oftern spend more and end up unhappy.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I see it as "A way to combat this" rather than "The way to combat this" — there are some choices that truly demand excellence rather than a ‘satisficer’ mentality.  There are a multitude of ways to overcome analysis paralysis.  I enjoy the TED talks but I feel like I sometimes need a shields up mentality to avoid getting sucked into a speaker’s cult of personality.  

  3. Special thanks to ‘Jerman of the Board’ for this blog post on a good book, "The Paradox of Choice." Just

  4. Special thanks to 'Jerman of the Board' for this blog post on a good book, "The Paradox

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