Thursday, April 06, 2006

Captain’s Book Review: “The Paradox of Choice”

Captain’s Book Review: “The Paradox of Choice”

“The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less” by Barry Schwartz

I learned about this book (like many of the books I have read so far) by listening to an interview with the author on the Diane Rehm show on NPR.

As I listened to the author, I was actually surprised by what he had to say. At the same time, though, I found that I completely related to ideas.

The main idea of his book is that, in our Capitalistic society where Freedom of Choice is King, there is a point where too many choices results in a dissatisfaction and even depression. This is counter-intuitive. You would think that the freedom to choose would set us free. He argues and proves that too many choices can imprison us.

The best thing I like about the book is that Schwartz offers solutions to his problem – and it’s not Communism or Socialism.

Quite the contrary – it is not the abundance of choice that makes us depressed, it is the way we spend our time thinking about making the choice and then double-guessing what we choose. It gets to the point where many people just give up altogether and choose not to choose.

An example Schwartz uses in his book deals with 401K retirement plans offered by a company. In a study Schwartz sites, a company tries to increase participation by increasing the number of mutual funds offered by the 401K plan – from 4 to 50. It backfired, horribly. It was hard enough to choose wisely from 4 plans, but 50 was too many and people just avoided making the choice altogether.

My favorite example is the one about buying a pair of jeans – something I personally dread. Like me, Schwartz likes to go into a store, find his size from a pile of jeans and buy it. When Schwartz went into a Gap store, he was bombarded with options – relaxed fit, baggy, tight, tapered leg, etc. He spent much more time then he was expecting to trying to find the right fit. Sure he found a better fitting pair of jeans, but he ended up feeling horrible about it because of all the time and money he spent and the “what if” thinking – “if I had spent a little more time, I would have found a better fitting pair”.

Moral of the story – just buy a pair of jeans that fit, be happy and stop dwelling on it.

Schwartz splits people into two categories: maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers spend a lot of time trying to find the absolute best deal and when they finally make a choice, they are still on the lookout for an even better deal – they are never happy. Satisficers, on the other hand, spend time looking at their options, but once they make their choice, they stop worrying about it. Schwartz argues that we are all a mix of both types – but some are more maximizers then satisficers.

Schwartz argues that satisficers are happier with their life and their choices than maximizers. And that is his advice to his readers – learn to make a choice and stop thinking about it. Otherwise, the constant “what if” thinking will drive you crazy and make you miserable.

This was a great book. I really enjoyed reading it. It helped me understand how to make better choices and to appreciate the choices that I have already made. It also allows me to give advice to those who suffer from “maximization” to help them feel better about their choices and themselves. This book is a definite on anybody’s “Must Read” list.


At 1:17 PM, Blogger Khomsta said...

Hah, that was pretty interesting. I've always been the satisfier myself, but there were always times where I wanted to be the maximiser because I had more interest and knowledge in the product/industry. Case-in-point, computer parts.

So maybe as knowledge goes down, satisfaction goes up and vice versa? I've noticed this in myself anyways.


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