Friday, May 18, 2007

Booknote: The Paradox of Choice

Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. New York: ECCO, 2004. ISBN: 0060005688.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Psychology, Human behavior

To make this short, this book is basically a psychological study of the concept of choices. Why we make choices and how our choices are shaped. What things influence our choices. The paradox is basically whether having more choices is a good thing or not. One the one hand, more choices would mean one can have more information to make better decisions. On the other hand, too many choices would mean that a person could be paralyzed or have regrets once a choice is made due to not knowing what other choices could have entailed. The book has an interesting premise, but it is a bit of a dry reading. Anyhow, once you read the prologue, the author gives such a clear road map that the incentive to read the rest of the book is minimal other than to read the illustrations for his arguments. His arguments are:

  1. "We would be better off if we embraced certain voluntary constraints on our freedom of choice, instead of rebelling against them."
  2. "We would be better off seeking what was 'good enough' instead of seeking the best (have you ever heard a parent say, 'I want only the 'good enough' for my kids'?"
  3. "We would be better off if we lowered our expectations about the results of decisions."
  4. "We would be better off if the decisions we made were nonreversible."
  5. "We would be better off if we paid less attention to what others around us were doing." (5)
Some of those I disagree, and some of them I agree with. The author claims these go against the conventional wisdom where "the more choices people have, the better off they are, that the best way to get good results is to have very high standards, and that it's always better to have a way back out of a decision than not" (6). The arguments are somewhat compelling, but personally, I don't agree with all of it. Anyways, the book may give some food for thought for folks out there.

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