The first time I heard about the book Paradox of Choice was at a conference in Boston from a speaker named Ben Wills at the end of a talk about his software company Ontolo. He talked about how the team had incorporated a large number of features while designing their software only to realize that people were overwhelmed by the number of choices. He then spoke about the process of eliminating everything but the essential, and he happened to mention this book along the way. His session ended up probably being one of my favorite times of the entire conference. During the Q&A section of the presentation, attendees kept asking more about his approach to simplicity and the need to eliminate the extraneous. He went on to tell us about how he has several several versions of the same outfit. He literally had several pairs of identical jeans and several identical shirts. That way, he didn’t have to waste brainpower on what to wear for the day.
Before digging into the concepts of the book (I promise we will in just a sec), I want to focus on the audience of that conference session. Here were all these people ready for the latest in SEO and marketing, yet they were now all leaning forward in their seats as Wills talked about a different way of living and having a purposeful approach.
It was really a beautiful sight. People are engaged in the search for meaning at the most unexpected of times. It’s too important not to.
On to the book
The Paradox of Choice is a fabulous study of how too much choice can actually lead us to avoiding decision-making.
But we love choice, you might say. And author Barry Schwartz agrees:
If it were up to us to choose whether or not to have choice, we would opt for choice almost every time. But it is the cumulative effect of these added choices that I think is causing substantial distress.
The need to make so many decisions in our day to day can lead to one of two modes: the maximizer or the satisficer. The maximizer agonizes over practically every decision in a quest to make exactly the right decision, and that person feels a nearly constant regret that there was a better decision to be made, if only she or he could have all of the information necessary.
The satisficer looks for a good solution, and upon finding it, stops the search. She or he will take that option, knowing that one cannot possibly understand all of the possibilities surrounding a decision. This person does not fret about the other options. The decision is made, and life simply carries on.
Schwartz argues extensively for the satisficer lifestyle, and his arguments are just as compelling ten years later.
This is a great book if you’re feeling overwhelmed, and you’re not quite sure why.