Choosing Again

consumerAfter finishing the post on The Art of Choosing, I felt the need to comment on all three books including The Paradox of Choice and The Myth of Choice. (Nudge might have been placed in this group, but I decided against it.) Reaction to these books surprises me with its emphasis on consumer choices, but the book publishers probably wanted it that way. I understand that even Rush Limbaugh was talking about Barry Schwartz.  Barry Schwartz seems to be portrayed as a curmudgeon who is trying at the same time to eliminate our consumer choices. With the subtitle of Why More is Less, How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction maybe I can understand it.  Schwartz’s book was published in 2004 while the Art of Choosing was published in 2010, and the Myth of Choice in 2011. Frankly, the last two books seem easy to write with the Schwartz book as a template. According to Amazon ranking, Schwartz might be the only one making any direct money from his book.

Iyengar with her jam and her recommendation to seek out retailers who categorize for you, Schwartz with his jeans, and Greenfield with his vacuum cleaners do take advantage of the consumer slant.   To me consumer choice means I have a chance to find the product I know I like on the shelves.  It also means at times that there are no products that I will like, because frankly I am not the target or even the secondary target market. There may be three hundred television channels on my satellite,  and we only watch ten. If there were not three hundred, the ten that I watch might not be available.  Consumer choice may not be easy, but at least it is not important.

These three authors are quite capable and the consumer examples are all things that we can identify with and things that are easy to research. All three do want to get to the important stuff.  Schwartz made me realize that there can be too much choice. Ivengar actually tried to provide analytical tools to help me.  Greenfield provided some excellent discussion of personal responsibility and the law–his expertise.

Greenfield discusses motorcycle helmet laws.  This leads him to freedom and choice and personal responsibility. Greenfield, as devil’s advocate, suggests that personal responsibility is best understood to mean that individuals get to make the choice for themselves about wearing a helmet.  People make their own choices in this personal responsibility. They can decide whether to be thoughtful about the costs their behavior may impose on society or to be stupid. In this scenario freedom is choice and choice is personal responsibility. Greenfield notes that this kind of personal responsibility does not help me make choices, but it seems to be on the ascendancy. He also has interesting comments on how judges should not be equated with umpires and how they should be empathetic (not sympathetic or compassionate).

Below I have tried to provide the gist of these three books.

Art of Choosing– Iyengarartofchoosing Myth of Choice– Greenfieldmyth   Paradox of Choice – Schwartzparadox
Focus on the choices that matter. Know your limits. Have humility about choice making powers Learn how to be a satisficer and accept good enough
Become more aware of your hidden biases and preferences (IAT) Expand opportunities to make public commitments Make your decisions non-reversible
Choice is not an unconditional good nor does it determine everything. Don’t forget destiny and chance. Notice how culture influences us Curtail social comparison
Cut your choices down to between 5 & 9 and remember it is not an option if you can’t tell the difference Don’t be distracted by all the options Reduce the number of options you consider
Start with easier choices and go to the more complex ones We are hardwired to avoid awareness & deliberation, but doing that in all our choices can lead to bad ones. Regret less. Practice gratitude for what is good in a choice.
Take advantage of experts and the wisdom of crowds Public policy should help us make better choices by avoiding economic coercion  & encouraging dissent & diversity Anticipate adaptation-satisfaction tends to be a treadmill
To hold fast to something, one must be held to something Situations are powerful-Don’t put yourself where you will be tempted Learn to love constraints, rules