The Art of Choosing

27 02 2016

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar surpassed all my expectations and more. I’m very impressed by this work. I was surprised to learn that the author is blind. At no point in the whole book would you get an idea of any such limitation on author’s part.  This work is a result of decades of her work in the field of choice. It also assimilated the outcome of numerous studies performed of many other researchers.

theartofchoosingThe book talked about how important choice is to one’s well-being as well as how and in what circumstances it can be over-whelming and/or harmful. It laid out how choice shapes our lives. It is interesting to note that in many cases, a belief that we have a choice is more important than whether we actually have the choice or not. A large part of the choosing process can be about making a personal statement – establishing or reaffirming a self image.

The book also touched upon cultural differences in perceiving choice in different aspects of life. Asian cultures do not see many aspects of life, even as important as marriage, profession etc. as personal choices, and let the family and/or community to make those choices for them. In contrast, Western cultures are characterized by the individual freedom of choice. This keeps the onus on the individual to make each and every choice that comes along his or her way. And sometimes it can be quite self-defeating.

I expected the book to rant about consumerism and the profusion of choice we currently have as part of each and every buying experience. The book definitely touched this aspect, but also a lot more. Sheena Iyengar presented choice as a philosophy of life and dissected it from all angles worthy enough to consider. It gave a well-rounded perspective on choice and the role it plays in our lives. This book is a treasure as far as I’m concerned.

I lamented before on this blog about analysis paralysis I frequently encounter while trying to choose among plethora of options available out there and I hoped that this book about choice would address that predicament and offer some tips. I was pleased to find that it did. They include:

  • Gain expertise in the field to choose better
  • Defer to experts’ recommendations or crowd wisdom in areas where you don’t have expertise
  • Consult experts when you are too emotionally tied to a situation to make sound judgment
  • Use programs like SMarT, StickK, SnuzNLuz alarm to make beneficial choices

I would add that going with satisficing rather than maximizing strategy can combat analysis paralysis. But of course, this can seem easier said than done, especially when choice is much more than what it appears to be at first glance.

The author concludes that despite all the assistance of science, choice remains an art at its core.

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