Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less By Barry Schwartz

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

The Paradox Of Choice: Why More Is Less By Barry Schwartz

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Product Description

In the spirit of Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, a social critique of our obsession with choice, and how it contributes to anxiety, dissatisfaction and regret. This paperback includes a new P.S. section with author interviews, insights, features, suggested readings, and more.

Whether we're buying a pair of jeans, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting a long-distance carrier, applying to college, choosing a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions--both big and small--have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented.

We assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress. And, in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz explains at what point choice--the hallmark of individual freedom and self-determination that we so cherish--becomes detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being. In accessible, engaging, and anecdotal prose, Schwartz shows how the dramatic explosion in choice--from the mundane to the profound challenges of balancing career, family, and individual needs--has paradoxically become a problem instead of a solution. Schwartz also shows how our obsession with choice encourages us to seek that which makes us feel worse.

By synthesizing current research in the social sciences, Schwartz makes the counterintuitive case that eliminating choices can greatly reduce the stress, anxiety, and busyness of our lives. He offers eleven practical steps on how to limit choices to a manageable number, have the discipline to focus on the important ones and ignore the rest, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make.

Product Details

  • Amazon Sales Rank: #4435 in Books
  • Published on: 2005-01-18
  • Released on: 2005-01-18
  • Original language: English
  • Number of items: 1
  • Dimensions: .76" h x 6.48" w x 8.24" l, .59 pounds
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 304 pages
Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
Like Thoreau and the band Devo, psychology professor Schwartz provides ample evidence that we are faced with far too many choices on a daily basis, providing an illusion of a multitude of options when few honestly different ones actually exist. The conclusions Schwartz draws will be familiar to anyone who has flipped through 900 eerily similar channels of cable television only to find that nothing good is on. Whether choosing a health-care plan, choosing a college class or even buying a pair of jeans, Schwartz, drawing extensively on his own work in the social sciences, shows that a bewildering array of choices floods our exhausted brains, ultimately restricting instead of freeing us. We normally assume in America that more options ("easy fit" or "relaxed fit"?) will make us happier, but Schwartz shows the opposite is true, arguing that having all these choices actually goes so far as to erode our psychological well-being. Part research summary, part introductory social sciences tutorial, part self-help guide, this book offers concrete steps on how to reduce stress in decision making. Some will find Schwartz's conclusions too obvious, and others may disagree with his points or find them too repetitive, but to the average lay reader, Schwartz's accessible style and helpful tone is likely to aid the quietly desperate.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist
Who woulda thunk it? Here we are, in the early years of the twenty-first century, being driven bonkers by the staggering array of consumer goods from which we must choose. Choosing something as (seemingly) simple as shampoo can force us to wade through dozens, even hundreds, of brands. We are, the author suggests, overwhelmed by choice, and that's not such a good thing. Schwartz tells us that constantly being asked to make choices, even about the simplest things, forces us to "invest time, energy, and no small amount of self-doubt, and dread." There comes a point, he contends, at which choice becomes debilitating rather than liberating. Did I make the right choice? Can I ever make the right choice? It would be easy to write off this book as merely an extended riff on that well-worn phrase "too much of a good thing," but that would be a mistake. Despite a tendency toward highfalutin language ("the counterfactuals we construct can be tilted upward"), Schwartz has plenty of insightful things to say here about the perils of everyday life. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review
"Brilliant.... The case Schwartz makes... is compelling, the implications disturbing.... An insightful book." (Christian Science Monitor )

"An insightful study that winningly argues its subtitle." (Philadelphia Inquirer )

"Schwartz lays out a convincing argument.... [He] is a crisp, engaging writer with an excellent sense of pace." (Austin American-Statesman )

"Schwartz offers helpful suggestions of how we can manage our world of overwhelming choices." (St. Petersburg Times )

"Wonderfully readable." (Washington Post )

"Schwartz has plenty of insightful things to say about the perils of everyday life." (Booklist )

"With its clever analysis, buttressed by sage New Yorker cartoons, The Paradox of Choice is persuasive." (BusinessWeek )

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews

296 of 313 people found the following review helpful.
5An engaging, lively, thoughtful book!
By Book Lover
This is an eye-opening book -- it brings the clarity and insight into decision-making that The Tipping Point did for trends.

I have seen Barry Schwartz interviewed on TV and listened to a radio interview regarding this book. These interviews focused a lot on decision-making in things like shopping, and how having more choices actually makes shopping harder and makes everyone dislike the process more.

I think "Paradox of Choice" does bring insight into shopping, but its range is actually much wider than that. Schwartz discusses people making difficult decisions about jobs, families, where to live, whether to have children, how to spend recreational time, choosing colleges, etc. He talks about why making these decisions today is much harder than it was 30 years ago, and he offers many practical suggestions for how to address decision-making so that it creates less stress and more happiness. He even discusses how so much additional choice affects children, and how parents can help make childhood (particularly young childhood) less stressful.

There are two other factors about this book that really made it great for me. The first is that Schwartz is a serious academic (although his writing isn't dense in any way at all) -- so he talks about studies that back up his assertions in every facet of his argument. He describes the studies in a very lively way, so that they really come to life, and we can understand how they relate to the issue at hand. And, importantly, we then realize that his discussion is really founded on the latest and most advanced research into decision-making. This is not some self-help guru with a half-baked idea spouting off.

The other thing that I really like about this book is that it has given me a new way to think about our larger society, and what I like and don't like about it. Schwartz has written books before that are expressly critiques of some aspects of America today, and while this book is more focused on the individual, you can't help but come away feeling more thoughtful about the larger effect of these issues on our culture.

I only wish that I had read this book before my latest career change -- it would have saved me a considerable amount of anguish. This is a great book!!

222 of 235 people found the following review helpful.
3If You Choose Not To Peruse, You Still Have Made A Choice
By Connoisseur Rat
Unfortunately, I came to this book a bit late. And even more unfortunately, I read Daniel Gilbert's breezily engaging "Stumbling On Happiness" before taking this one in. I say that because - though I found "The Paradox of Choice" to be a solid and effectively-argued treatise on the very modern problem of consumer inundation - there is an almost-overwhelming amount of overlapping studies from that book to this one.

Need proof? Well, be careful what you wish for! Because I, obsessive nerd that I am, actually kept track. The repeated studies are as follows (and please feel free to skip this paragraph if you haven't read "Stumbling"): the unpleasant noise/colonoscopy "peak end" experiment (pp. 49-50, paperback edition); the college student snack-picking survey (p. 51), the 3rd letter/1st letter demonstration of the availability heuristic (page 58); the $100 coin flip risk assessment analysis (p.65); the $20 concert ticket example of "sunk costs" (pp.70-3); the "experience sampling method" (p.106); trade offs involving new car options (p.124), the picture choosing study (p.138); the lottery/quadriplegic examples of hedonic temperature on p.170. And I could go on (really!), but I think I'll spare you (and me) the trouble.

Suffice it to say, if you read "Stumbling on Happiness," you will find a lot of repeat material here. And you may find that frustrating, as I sometimes did. If you're still interested in the ideas (and solutions) presented in this book, I recommend you pick it up in the library and just read chapters 4 and 11, which for all practical purposes can serve as a condensed version of the entire work.

But even if you haven't read "Stumbling," there's still quite a bit of this book that can be skimmed past without missing too much - especially in the beginning. In chapters one and two, the author goes a little overboard (perhaps intentionally?) in showing us just how easy it is to drown in the sea of choices that can be made in every facet of life.

It all becomes a bit repetitive and recurring and redundant and sometimes makes its points a few too many times over (much like I just did in this very sentence - annoying, isn't it?). I mean, the "jeans story" in the prologue is amusing and easy to relate to, but in Part I of the book ("When We Choose") we have to hear about how many options are involved in (*takes a deep breath*) groceries and gadgets and catalogs and academics and entertainment and utilities and health insurance and retirement plans and medical care and beauty and work and love and worship and identity. (*falls on ground, gasping for air*)

I GET it, Barry! I UNDERSTAND there are too many choices in the world - that's why I bought your gol-danged book! For the impatient readers out there, I would suggest skipping these chapters entirely (but then again, that would entail you having to make another choice, and I don't want to burden you with yet another one - so forget I mentioned it, okay?)

Thankfully, it gets better. Part II ("How We Choose") is decidedly more rewarding (save for the repeat studies mentioned above). On pages 77-8, Schwartz lays out his central construct of "maximizers vs. satisficers": "If you seek and accept only the best, you are a maximizer...The alternative to maximizing is to be a satificer. To satisfice is to settle for something that is good enough and not worry about the possibility that there might be something better."

And until the final chapter, the rest of the book (aka Part III: "Why We Suffer") is spent convincingly (albeit somewhat relentlessly) warning against the energy-draining dangers of "maximizing" and extolling the virtues of "satisficing." (And, let the record show, it is never explained (in my copy, anyway), where the term "satisficing" comes from. I suppose it is an amalgam of "satisfy" and "suffice," but to this reader it seems a little forced, unnecessary and even a bit pretentious - and I usually like dumb wordplay.)

I truly enjoyed the ensuing discussions about concepts such as: the wealth/availability of choices in various nations and how it correlates (or doesn't) to happiness; harnessing the power of second order decisions; how to best deal with opportunity costs (according to standard economic assumptions); the confounding qualities inherent in trade-offs; how counterfactuals can be used for the power of good; and the vagaries of such things as "inaction inertia" and "positional goods."

(And by the way, if the above list sounds a bit dry to your ears... that's because it is. The writing in this book exists on the cusp between the conversational and the academic. It's not quite as engaging or chatty as the prose of other pop-science authors like Leavit or Gladwell or Gilbert, but it's not so dry that you could use it to mop up nasty spills...)

Along the way, a collection of not-very-funny half- to full-page New Yorker comic strip panels appear every 25 pages or so and don't do a heck of a lot to spice up the proceedings. Also, the penultimate chapter on depression seems to come out of nowhere and has little to do with the rest of the book.

But the final chapter (found in Part IV: "What We Can Do") does a nice job of summing up the concepts and suggesting possible coping strategies. Though I struggled at times with the pace and the tone of this book (perhaps because I was spoiled by "Stumbling"), I still think there is enough good stuff in here to merit a perusal.

140 of 163 people found the following review helpful.
5My review of The Paradox of Choice
By Robert G Yokoyama
I enjoyed reading this book very much. Having rules and constraints in society is a good thing and should be embraced. This is an important idea of this book. The Paradox of Choice explains how people arrive at the decisions they do. This book also talks about the negative aspects of making decisions in a world with so many choices. Finally, this book offers suggestions on how to make better choices and reduce stress.

Barry Schwartz makes many good points about decision making. One of them is that because of the growing number of choices we are presented with, we don't always have the time to look at all the information out there to make the best choice. Another interesting point is that people expect certain decisions to be made for them. In the health care field for example, we expect the doctor to tell what kind of treatment we need.

I learned from reading this book that we should all strive to be satisficers rather maximizers. A satisficer is a person who chooses a product or service that is good enough. A maximizer is a person who is always trying to get the best product. A satisficer is usually happy with their choice. In contrast, a maximizer isn't happy and often regrets what they bought.

We should also try to stick our choices and not change our minds. This is another way to reduce anixety I learned in the book. This is very hard to do consistently, but I thought this was a good piece of advice. I also enjoyed the idea of being a chooser and not a picker. Choosers have time to change their goals whereas pickers do not. Choosers take their time making a decision considering all their options unlike pickers who do not.

The Paradox of Choice is an excellent book with a lot of interesting information about the habits people have in making decisions. It also has very useful tips on how to reduce anixety in your life.

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