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.