Tag Archives: Barry Schwartz

Paradox of Choice

The library’s copy of Paradox of Choice has gotten around to me. I’m bummed that I didn’t learn very much. I guess, I know too much about modern marketing. Good news, there is one very amusing item, a joke, about half way through.

But first, a story. In the 1950s Herb Simon at CMU passed an insight from one side of campus to the other.

He was working on Artificial Intelligence, building computer programs to play games. If you write such programs you quickly discover that your human opponents wander off before your software has time to pick the best move. To keep them engaged you’d better make some compromises.

Simon passed this insight to the folks over the business school; where the insight evolved into the idea that economic entities (firms, business men) rarely, if ever, seek the best outcome.  Instead economic actors make trade-offs just like the AI programs.  E.g. they seek satisfactory outcomes rather than the best outcomes.

At it’s core the Paradox of Choice is a joke of the two guys walk into a bar kind.  The world is made up of those two kinds of people: the maximizers and the satisfiers. Maximizers spend more resources on getting the best possible outcome and satisfiers don’t. The joke is on the Maximizers. They do tend to archive their goal, accumulating more than the satisfiers, but ironically they are never satisfied. Depression is highly correlated with maximizing behavior.

And this is the books’ key insight – you can make somebody miserable by converting them into a Maximizer.

You do this by presenting them with more choices. That encourages a switch in their behavior from happy satisfier to depressed maximizer. It’s a denial of service attack on the problem solving mechanism.

Remember: “marketing is war” and “planning is what you do to avoid action.”