The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

How could having less options make you happier?

The book deals with the kind of problems that people face every day. The coffee shop has 30 different cups of coffee in 3 sizes. The clothes shop has 6 different styles of jeans in 3 different fits. Things then become more complicated the more expensive the item is, you don’t want to make the wrong decision when buying a computer or a car.

This makes me think of the whole Mac vs. PC debate. If you want Snow Leopard you either have server or desktop. If you want Windows 7 there’s Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate. They might even have a server version as well I’m not sure. Then they have retail and update and 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Then there’s hardware. Apple have about 3 laptops, 3 complete desktops and one small and one pro desktop. How many possible combinations do you have with PC hardware? Different configurations of monitors, motherboards, processors, memory, display cards, cases, keyboards and mice from thousands of different manufacturers. Does all that choice really make people happier? Anyway back to the book.

Two terms that keep cropping up in the book are satisficer and maximizer. The satisficer will find an item and, if it fits the required criteria, the right colour, style, size, a purchase will be made and that’s it. The maximizer will try and visit every store that sells the item and try and compare each item seen. Of course the maximizer cannot be 100% sure that the item is perfect because visiting every clothes shop in town, in your county or even in the country isn’t possible. There’s always the chance that a purchase will be made and only then will they see the perfect item.

I don’t quite know what I would class myself as. I do have a habit of buying DVDs in a sale, knowing that they’re cheaper than the full retail price, and then checking the price online to see exactly how much I saved if anything.

The other term I liked was inaction inertia. You see an item for 30% less than the list price but you don’t buy it because you could find a better deal elsewhere. You look and look and find nothing better. You then return to the store and see that the item is now only 10% less. Do you buy it? No, because now it is less attractive. Even with a 10% discount you don’t buy it at all because you regret buying it at 30%. The book contains quite a few little psychological conundrums like this.

One interesting point, about half way into the book, the author asks why people purchase something and then force themselves thorough the pain of not enjoying simply because they’ve spent the money. It was about here that I asked myself the same question. I’ve bought the book but the act of reading through it is just getting more and more tortuous. The money has already been spent, that part is done, so why am I going through this and not enjoying it. At what point do you call it and say that’s it? Maybe I was hoping that the book would improve. But why not just skim through that last half?

Actually the book isn’t all that bad, but it should have been half as thick considering the material. I was reading most of it thinking that I’d read it before, and I had. The first couple of chapters cover the entire book in summary and the end of each chapter describes the next. For a non-fiction book like this you don’t need a cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter. A good editor would have dealt with all this duplication. Less is more.

  • Reviewed on Friday, 02 April 2010
  • Tagged with book review