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Decision Paralysis

Whether or not you have heard of the expression before, but you are probably familiar with the reality of "decision paralysis". It is the inability to make a decision. In the science of behavioral economics it is used to describe what happens when there are too many choices and so choosing becomes difficult.

More than one study has shown that having more options often results in decisions being more difficult--and less likely. In one such study, customers bought twice as often when given four samples of different foods to taste than when they had twenty to choose from. Having too many choices is a problem and, conversely, offering fewer options may be a useful sales technique, according to this research finding.

In fact, the either/or technique has been used by good sales people for generations. It goes something like this; "Would you like this one or that one then?" This adds the assumption that you are buying one or the other to the limiting of options to two.

Beyond Business

Of course, the usefulness of this concept is not limited to manipulating (or helping) customers in stores who need to make a choice. It can be seen at work in many areas of life, like when children are given too many choices of what to do instead of asking them, "Do you want to do "A" or "B," and they hesitate to choose anything.

An understanding of this may even be used at a more personal level. For example, maybe limiting the options we give ourselves can make us more decisive and productive. I have read that Albert Einstein had a closet full of duplicate suits, so he didn't have to think about what to wear each morning. Whether true or not, it isn't such a bad idea.

Now I'll leave you with a couple unanswered questions. You might find you own answers to these.

1. Despite the reduced ability to make a decision that comes with having many options, is it still generally better to have the widest possible range of choices?

2. Can we somehow narrow the options available at decision time without limiting the total number of options that are available up to that point, and is this a way to both have the most total number of choices while avoiding decision paralysis? (Okay, that may be more of a suggestion than a question, but it does leave open the "how" of narrowing the options.)

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Decision Paralysis