Monday, May 3, 2010

Too many options!


According to a old rock song by Rush "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." This song was stuck in my head recently when I read an article about an interview with Sheena Iyengar, Columbia professor and the author of "The Art of Choosing". Her field of specialty is social psychology and decision making. Some of her work includes research with three year olds half of whom were given a toy to play with and the other half had several choices of toys. She predicted that those with the most choices would be having the most fun. She was surprised to see that the opposite was true. Those who had been given a particular toy played happily while those with options were listless and not engaged. Other examples she gives include selecting 401K plans from nearly thousands of mutual funds, or selecting a paint color from a four foot wide display of paint colors. Maybe it's stressful because there are so many wrong answers.
How do we feel when we are shopping and there are so many permutations of sodas, cereals, and other products? We simplify. For the most part we keep getting the same things every time.We add a new product every so often to try it, but often go back to what we know and trust. We take the the "think" out of it.
As an organizer, I see first hand how overwhelmed people are by decisions-- so much so that they often choose to not decide. These delayed decisions grow and pile and undermine their quality of life. But, a little guidance, some narrowing down, a few poignant questions, lots of practice and decision making skills can improve. People begin to feel more confident about the choices they are making and realize that many choices are repetitive. Solutions that Dr. Iynegar endorses include categorizing your options to narrow your choices. Making up rules to take the "think" out of it like deciding to recycle all marketing postcards. Go for collective wisdom, bouncing the decisions around with someone else. I would add that you generally make decisions based on the best information you have at the time. Give yourself credit for that.

An interesting side note: Dr. Iyengar is blind.