Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Paradox of Choice.

Just finished reading a book called the 'Paradox of Choice- Why more is less' by Barry Schwartz. It was a Business week Top 10 book of the year.

I'm a bit disappointed. It goes on about how having too much choice causes confusion and makes us unhappy. It talks about the rates of depression and with no clear link in my view at all blames it on the amount of choice we have in life. It takes tests and survey results, which look odd but I work on the assumption are true, and uses them to justify the theme of the book.

Now I've been in most of the situations in the book and not had any of the issues that it talks about although, from the book, I am a 'satisficer'. I scored 40 on the score and 6 on the regret scale. It seems I am 'a good enough' which is true. I make my choices quickly based on the facts at the time and don't tend to regret them. Sure, I've made mistakes but I acknowledge them and move on. None are serious.

The premise is that we cannot evaluate too many things and trying leads to unhappiness. Looking around it could be right but the book also says that having no choice leads to inertia. We just don't bother when out choices are made for us. It may be right, but I'm still for the choices. We just need to handle the situation better and if necessary question why we view all things so seriously.

For a while now when talking to people I use the example that the people in the UK are in the top 10% of the world. We have enough to eat, generally nobody starves, we get looked after health wise, generally, and we have roofs over our head. Yet what do we do? We look at the top 10% of where we are and strive to be in there. When we get there we are in the top 1% on our planet and what do we do? We strive to be the top 10% of that niche and so on. Bill Gates is still working at building his fortune. We always strive to be better. That is the human condition. Those that don't are the drag on our society to slow progress and unfortunately there are a lot more of them and with our state reducing their options and making them docile it's getting worse. A big -ve for democracy.

For me, I'm happy where I am. I live comfortably, I have a close family, a well paying job I enjoy, less so at the moment, I'm good at what I do, and can afford to do basically what I want. Every decision I make is weighed up and made and I don't tend to look back with regret. Certain decisions are revisited. I look at my Insurance, Gas, Electrickery and mortgage every few years and spend a few hours making a fresh decision and when it comes to the serious, future defining decisions, I spend as much time as necessary before making a choice. I'm a maximiser when it counts.

I also cause trouble at the team building exercises and so on because I don't look at everything so seriously. Choose between good health for your children or yourself. What? Although I've seen quite balanced looking individuals choose a nice house in a good area over their and their children's health. wtf? I remember starting a big argument over that test series.

Although saying all that there was a couple of interesting snippets in the book. Although it could have been less than half the size it was and still had the same snippets and it could have explained better on how to move from being a maximers to a satisficer for some things with examples based on the examples in the book itself. A wasted opportunity.

On to 'The Hard Way' by Lee Child. I love these type of stories.


At 1:57 pm, Blogger JohnM said...

I've had the same debate with my brother, who passionately argued that too much choice leads to misery. His particular bogey was the "confusion" arising from opening 192 calls to competition, (although all the de-privatisations seemed to provide evidence of the problems of choice). He couldn't accept that if there were too many service providers in the 192 space then they would either consolidate or specialise.

I suspect that Barry Schwartz and my brother share a common motivation in looking for a rational for socialism. Since the economic argument is lost, they need to seek an alternative and anti-modernism (cf Greens) seems to be the current favourite.


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