Too much choice

I just finished watching an old (2006) TED Talk on the Paradox of Choice.  This fascinating 20 minute presentation is on how the modern western society ideal of choice = freedom and freedom = welfare may be dead wrong.  In fact, he argues, too much choice leads to greater levels of dissatisfaction through:

  • Increased regret and anticipation of regret
  • Opportunity costs (feeling bad about missing out on what the alternatives offer)
  • Escalation of expectations (forcing us to believe that anything less than perfect will dissatisfy)
  • Self-blame (once you have a choice, then if you make the wrong choice it’s your fault)

Dr. Schwartz (no relation to me), provides some interesting real life examples to what choice costs us as a society.  For example, for every 10 additional funds you can invest in your 401(k), participation drops about 2%.  Yet we know that unless you invest and save for retirement, you’re going to be in deep trouble later.

There’s an opportunity here in process design to attack some of these issues head on.  Standard processes means less choice for the individuals in the process.  But counter to our ingrained cultural belief in the individual and individual choice, less choice may in fact make our employees happier and those who have to interact with us happier as well.  Doing things in a standard way may not just be good for consistent results, but it may be good for morale as well.

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