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The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less Hardcover – January 6, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Like Thoreau and the band Devo, psychology professor Schwartz provides ample evidence that we are faced with far too many choices on a daily basis, providing an illusion of a multitude of options when few honestly different ones actually exist. The conclusions Schwartz draws will be familiar to anyone who has flipped through 900 eerily similar channels of cable television only to find that nothing good is on. Whether choosing a health-care plan, choosing a college class or even buying a pair of jeans, Schwartz, drawing extensively on his own work in the social sciences, shows that a bewildering array of choices floods our exhausted brains, ultimately restricting instead of freeing us. We normally assume in America that more options ("easy fit" or "relaxed fit"?) will make us happier, but Schwartz shows the opposite is true, arguing that having all these choices actually goes so far as to erode our psychological well-being. Part research summary, part introductory social sciences tutorial, part self-help guide, this book offers concrete steps on how to reduce stress in decision making. Some will find Schwartz's conclusions too obvious, and others may disagree with his points or find them too repetitive, but to the average lay reader, Schwartz's accessible style and helpful tone is likely to aid the quietly desperate.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Who woulda thunk it? Here we are, in the early years of the twenty-first century, being driven bonkers by the staggering array of consumer goods from which we must choose. Choosing something as (seemingly) simple as shampoo can force us to wade through dozens, even hundreds, of brands. We are, the author suggests, overwhelmed by choice, and that's not such a good thing. Schwartz tells us that constantly being asked to make choices, even about the simplest things, forces us to "invest time, energy, and no small amount of self-doubt, and dread." There comes a point, he contends, at which choice becomes debilitating rather than liberating. Did I make the right choice? Can I ever make the right choice? It would be easy to write off this book as merely an extended riff on that well-worn phrase "too much of a good thing," but that would be a mistake. Despite a tendency toward highfalutin language ("the counterfactuals we construct can be tilted upward"), Schwartz has plenty of insightful things to say here about the perils of everyday life. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Now I can easily see some people misreading what Schwartz brings to light in this book, or at least certain parts and aspects. For instance, a common suggestion made throughout is to be okay with "good enough." Schwartz does bring up the fact that higher expectations can (and often do) objectively lead to superior products and experiences, but it's easy to lose sight of that every time he mentions how "satisficers" are happier and that a "good enough" mentality and approach to life can make us feel better. There are even parts that one could interpret as him advocating for lifestyles where a lack of choice, regardless of whether we want the freedom of choice or not, may actually be better. This is sure to leave quite an impression on some readers, and I obviously can't speak for Schwartz himself, but my own takeaway isn't that we should regress back into having more choice. Rather, I feel the ultimate message we should take is that living lives with just enough restraint, keeping things concise and not fretting over little things that have little to no impact in the long run, is better than having to look into and analyze every little detail about every little decision. Another way of looking at it is the "less is more" expression. Knowing when to limit ourselves and knowing when to take full advantage of whatever we can is the line I feel Schwartz wants us all to walk. Having more to choose from is great, just don't let the abundance consume you.
I teach a university class on project management, and I present an entire lecture based on the principles described in this book. Engineering students can fall into the trap of being maximizers, since we are taught invent the best solutions to engineering problems. However, the ultimate scarce source is time, and sufficers tend to identify solutions that meet the design requirements without spending extra time worrying about all the untried solutions that may exceed the requirements, but will take longer to realize. This is a real eye-opener to engineering students, and this lecture consistently gets excellent reviews from the students.
The book does jump around a little, trying to explain the underlying causes of decision regret, but all in all, it is a great read and has provided a lexicon of terms that our family and my students use to describe our aberrant behavior when it comes to decision making.
The only thing you need to remember is that the human brain cannot handle the abundance of choices we have in our daily lives.
The answer, in my opinion, is KISS. Keep it simple, st***d.