Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Wild about Harry

The film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, is due to be released in cinemas shortly. A few weeks ago I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 on Blu-ray and became excited about seeing the final instalment.

I was saddened however when I realised that my 14-year relationship with Harry will soon come to an end. No more new books, no more new movies. So, I decided to relive the experience and start once more from the very beginning.

Reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997) again reminded me why J.K. Rowling is a genius. Her imagination, creativity and humour permeate every page. Harry, Ron and Hermione are full of life and all the supporting characters have such vivid personality. 

Immediately upon finishing Philosopher’s Stone I started to re-read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998). My memory of this book was that it was my least favourite in the series; a bit of a rehash of Philosopher’s Stone but with an annoying elf and a flying car thrown in for adventure. But having read it for a second time I feel I had misjudged it terribly. It was much more complex than I recalled and had several threads which link it to later books in the series. Again, Rowling’s clever wit and brilliant storytelling engrossed me. The way she handled the themes of race and class was also compelling.

I am now off to start Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), which I remember fondly as my favourite in the series. Though I seem to recall that each book was my favourite until the next one was released!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Too Much Choice

I have been reading Barry Schwartz' 2004 book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less in which he argues that while choice allows us freedom, too much choice can be debilitating and leads to dissatisfaction.

This got me thinking about all the choices I make every day from what to wear to work, what to take for lunch, what tasks to do upon arrival at my office, what to do when I get home.... Each choice contains so many little considerations and in most cases the stakes are not high so the choice is seemingly inconsequential. In many instances I do not really consider my choices - I just accept the same thing I have previously chosen (whether tea bags or tampons) so it requires less thought than to critically evaluate my true wants and needs and make a real choice.

It is not that I have decision-making paralysis, it is just that I am a satisficer – someone who sets standards/criteria and, when these are met, am satisfied with my choices. This makes choosing easier and leaves me less open for regret.

Schwartz writes about maximisers and satisficers. Maximisers only want the best where as satisficers settle for that which is good enough. Maximisers may experience ‘buyer’s regret’ after purchase because they may find that there is a better choice. Missed opportunities give rise to opportunity costs – the cost of passing up other opportunities.

This is a year of dramatic change for me and I have some major choices to make in my life. My job comes to an end in a few months’ time and for the first time in many years I will need to make a considerable decision about my career, which up to this point has evolved over time through a series of smaller choices. Do I continue to pursue a career in my current field that I have worked in for over 10 years? Or do I transition into a new field that I have dabbled in over the past few years and is an evolving area of interest?  Or do I go back to what I studied at university and start a new career (following up on a missed opportunity)? Or do I forge a completely new path?

Career considerations involve thinking about a range of factors: responsibilities, salary, location, opportunities for advancement, professional development, industry and much more. Many of these considerations will involve trade offs – for example, needing to travel further to get a higher salary. As a satisficer I will set my criteria and then look for positions that best meet that criteria.

Schwartz’ book is a little bit dated (with references to videos and Palm Pilots - so 2004!) and is clearly American, but it is an interesting read. I found some parts quite repetitive but it has certainly it has encouraged me to think about my own decision-making process.