Where are the Good Choices?

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In his 2004 book, Barry Schwartz describes the Paradox of too many Choices.  According to Schwartz, “A typical American supermarket carries more than 30,000 items.”  Consumer products and services also offer ever increasing options.  Unfortunately, what is most disturbing about all these commercial choices is that most of the offerings out there are NOT of much value. Indeed, it may be impossible to find something that fits your needs.  For example, a friend who just became a grandmother wanted a playpen for the baby. Apparently they no longer make them.  I needed to replace an aging laptop with a tall screen (not the new wide screen) because much of the work I do needs a lot of vertical space on the screen. The new screens are only 2/3 the height and almost unusable for some of my work. When I looked for a new one, I found 2 out of a thousand models and both were expensive gaming machines with features no adult would ever use.

Our broken political system is similar. How many times do you hear people say they went out to vote AGAINST the biggest jerk?  They did not find anyone worth voting FOR, it’s that the other guy who got their vote was simply a nothing, not actively evil.

In our careers, studies show the majority of Americans hate their jobs. In fact many are so angry they are actually engaged in sabotage. Yet when asked, they say they have no options. Small companies can’t afford to hire and one toxic multinational is no different than the next. Lots of “choices” with no measurable differences.

Schwartz suggests that many of our choices are not significant, and do not merit a lot of effort to select the optimum choice.  We could merely “Suffice”.  In addition to the significance issue, we should add that many of these supposed choices are actually “false choices”. The options are simply variants on low quality, not very useful garbage. Finding things that are barely useful is often a time consuming job, yet the sales guys tell us they have hundreds of options – all of them bad.  It’s often not possible to even Suffice.

Perhaps today’s  question is how to offer and how to help people find good choices among items with meaningful differences. We all need more experiences of finding the right thing and saying with real pleasure, ‘Yes, that’s what I need’.

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