The Psychology of Too Much Choice
Posted on January 7, 2007 Comments (2)
An understanding of psychology is one of the four components of Dr. Deming’s management system. This understanding lies behind practices such as: driving out fear, respect for people and eliminating slogans.
In an organization all the components (practices, processes, investments, training, people, suppliers, customers…) interact with the others. Dr. Deming tried to develop a system that took that reality into account. This reminds me of Einstein’s thought that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Often people asked Dr. Deming for simple rules. To me, they asked for him to provide an answer that was simpler than possible (to be effective).
The choice he provided was to learn about understanding variation, systems, psychology and the theory of knowledge and to then apply that understanding to management. I think perhaps it is easier to market a management system that has been made simple (in my view too simple but…). This is stretching the notion of choice a bit, but I think the equating the notion of too much choice and complexity makes sense – as far as making this point goes anyway.
When focusing on providing solutions to customers, it is important to know that too much choice can be demotivating. As When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing? by Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark R. Lepper discusses:
The three studies described in this report demonstrate for the first time the possibility, that while having more choices might appear desirable, it may sometimes have detrimental consequences for human motivation.
Joel Spolsky discussed this idea in: Choices = Headaches.
Google offers wonderful webcasts of speeches available online by experts on engineering and other topics. In The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz discusses related ideas and mentions the only kind of mobile phone you can’t get not is a simple one.
More from, Iyengar and Lepper: