We face choices on every possible corner. Whether it is the products we buy, clothes we wear or place we live in. We feel that the more choice there is, the more personal freedom we have. The truth may surprise you, however.
My local supermarket, for instance, stocks about thirty different types of beef you could possibly buy. There’s sirloin steaks, which are further split into the free range ones, organic ones and the “normal” ones, then there’s diced beef with similar range, and minced beef, also divided into different ranges. Then there’s obviously choice of size the package comes in. If I fancy some beef for dinner, I am most likely to freeze (excuse the pun) in front of a particular section, pre-occupied with choice. I need to consider deeply what I actually need to buy and evaluate my options carefully (I am fully responsible for my choice after all). As clock keeps ticking, I’m considering, getting more and more anxious and simply paralyzed by all the options. Breakthrough. Steak sounds good. I pick one up, just to put it down in a second in favor of another package. The free range one just looks more juicy, even though it may cost a little extra. I will make up the difference with frozen fries. But which ones? Straight cut, curly ones, crinkle-cut, flavored ones? Oh my. I think I will have chicken instead.
Few years back, me and a friend of mine, set off to the shops in order to buy winter hats (it was October and London was getting chilly). Just before entering the shop I spotted one to my liking and grabbed it off the shelf soon after, payed for it and the waiting game began. My friend checked out about twenty of them, trying them on, going round in circles and, after maybe twenty minutes, he picked one. We headed to the pub soon after, and with few pints down the throat he said “you know what mate? You’ve chosen a good one, I don’t think I will wear mine. I think I will go shopping again tomorrow”.
Is choice limiting our ability to make a decision?
In 2014, Tesco’s CEO, Dave Lewis, scrapped a staggering 30,000 products from the original 90,000 lines that was available in stores. Before that, Tesco used to offer a rather ridiculous 28(!) types of tomato ketchup. That number has been significantly decreased now. Lewis has gone against a common misconception that “choice is good for us”. It is something that Barry Schwartz looked at in his book, The Paradox of Choice. In one study cited by Schwartz, researchers set up two displays of jams at a gourmet food store for customers to try samples, who were given a coupon for a dollar off if they bought a jar. In one display there were six jams, in the other 24: 30% of people exposed to the smaller selection bought a jam, but only 3% of those exposed to the larger selection did (source: www.theguardian.com). Schwartz comes to a conclusion that the more choice we have, the less likely we are to make a decision. And, even if we do end up making one, we will most likely be dissatisfied with it (buyers remorse – “could I have done better choosing the other option?”). This brings regret, self-blame and escalation in expectations. Having the manufacturers filling every possible gap in the market, whatever the particular market may be, we believe that there is, in fact, the “perfect” product for us in the line-up somewhere.
OK, but what has that got to do with my creativity?
Having too many choices can disrupt your creative process or hold it back a while. I, for instance, spend days researching lenses and comparing one to another online, and, that time would certainly be more beneficial if I was out making photographs. I know of people who will spend hours choosing a hat or a t shirt and since whatever the outcome, we won’t be fully satisfied with the choice anyway that time could be spent much better by simply enjoying ourselves, going out for a drink with a friend, visiting and art gallery or whatever floats your boat.
Another thing is, the doubts, or “buyers remorse” will psychologically hold us back, making us feel that we already own is not good enough and there’s a number of options available that would be a great “upgrade” on the current kit. This feeling can certainly put one off and rather than getting the work done, one will head online to start the comparison process.
Dear Lord, what to do?
Well, you don’t have to become a complete luddite and cut yourself out of the world of the internet and targeted advertising. Becoming aware of the fact that having too much choice has a profound impact on your own happiness (and hence your creativity, your life and everything else) is already a step towards a better spent time. It will also hold some of the “after purchase remorse” back, which can lead to self doubt and drop of self confidence (that is never good in creative work).
At the end of the day, we all want to make the best decisions possible, and, to do that, we need to be well informed. The key is to prioritize on what has the most value and not to worry much about the rest. I mean, spending couple of hours to choose your t shirt can certainly be reduced. In one of the previous articles I mentioned one small tactic of prepping your clothes the evening prior so you eliminate one of the very first choices faced of the day. This is not to say that avoiding decisions or making snappy ones is the way, but cutting back on the time to analyze the options and spending it on things that will nourish your soul should become a more common thing.