When the paradox of choice is only a pair

Paul Heagen Uncategorized Leave a Comment

Psychologist Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice poses the premise that when confronted with too many choices, we fail to choose. Strawberry jam or blackberry jam, easy. But festoon the shelves with all manner of exotic and intriguing flavors, and we stare at them numbly. With a name like Smuckers, it has to be complicated. 


The notion that too many options can overwhelm our capacity to select one is great insight and validated experientially, but I also believe there are times when presented with only two choices we are just as perplexed. 


Go with this acquisition or that one? Hire this person or the other one? Spend capital here or there? Invest in this person as successor or hire outside? It’s a binary tug-of-war. 


Pro/con lists are not helpful; they fail to assign weight to each consideration. Every element is infused with some degree of hope, dreams, fears, aspirations, and perspiration.


I believe there is a way to break the logjam, but it starts with stepping away from that list and considering any or all of these three principles or questions: 


Separate the decision from the difficulty of making it. Too often we can stand perplexed at the threshold of all the vicissitudes of execution of a decision — particularly when it comes to personnel — and lose sight of the value of the decision once made. If you can get yourself on the other side and just rest in the fresh air of what it would be like if the decision was made, it likely will diminish the negative sentiments on the execution part, or at least give you renewed energy and resolve for it. 

Which decision, if it turns out less than ideal, will I have less regret over having made? You have to unwind that one a bit, but what is often lacking in a decision is the honest embrace of regret, even guilt, of being wrong, or for the wrong reasons. This helps you confront that head-on. Curiously, I have seen many leaders blast right through the logic fog and come up with their answer when I ask it this way. 

If we wait until the choice is clear — or we have no choice at all — we are not leading. Anyone can make a decision that has been pulverized down to inarguable granularity. Trust your guts. That’s why you’re there.  

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