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
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.)