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The paradox of choice

Often, in our previous articles, we addressed how the integration of new elements in our business strategy, in the management of an innovation project or, in general, the implementation of a new technology in our company may generate a real impasse or what we described as “fear of innovation”.

The same impasse as well as being a child of change can arise from the need to make important decisions, or decisions to be taken with a massive possibility of choice.

In one of his most famous books, "The Paradox of Choice", Berry Schwartz examined how the extreme freedom of choice we have or can have today, can adversely affect our ability to decide and act.

The huge amount of information we have and the endless possibilities offered by new technologies (for purchases, relationships and customization of products and services) give us a wide possibility and freedom of choice.

According to the author this enormous potential, more than translating into great freedom, risks becoming something limiting in terms of action.

For example, let’s imagine to work on the creation of a new product, a new service or a new solution. The simple fact of being able to choose actions, objectives and have total freedom of action toward the final result, should motivate us and especially let us enjoy that "creative power" that the action and, in general, the management of this process brings with it.

Berry Schwartz, in his analysis, disagrees with this statement and invites us to reflect by presenting two simple examples, that we will examine imagining two different situations:

 Case 1 (shifting the burden of responsibility) - We are at the doctor's office and we give a complete picture of the symptoms that afflict us. After meditating on the causes, the specialist offers two solutions: the first one involves X benefits and at the same time Y possible risks, while the second one entails other benefits and other possible risks. No opinions. We are free to choose between the two of them.

 Case 2 (multiplying possibilities): We enter a supermarket because we want to buy a new jar of jam and, observing all the products of the main companies, we discover that we can choose between 50 different tastes.

 Not only these examples, but even if we considered other aspects of life, beyond the purchases, the same explosion of choices occurs. We must continually decide, we are forced in every moment, in every moment, even in small things, to give an answer, to act.


What are the consequences of this overload of possibilities?

 1. We are led to a paralysis due to the difficulties implied in the decision-making process. When we have more solutions to the same problem, sometimes with apparent or effective equivalence of costs and benefits related to the choice of one or rather another solution, here comes the fear of making mistakes and we find ourselves blocked in a loop to continuously analyse all the possible solutions;

2. If the solution is wide and, especially, there are no similar cases or experiences that support us in limiting our possible judgment and to significantly reduce our uncertainty degree, it’s hard not only to choose but, at the same time, to be confident about the choices we made. This is because the weight of responsibility cannot be shared with similar situations.

3. More options we have for a choice and more we imagine a product / service to be purchased, more our expectation about the solutions’ excellence degree increases. If I have, for example, 100 options to choose from, surely a solution can not contain all of them. If we imagine one by one all the many options discarded, considering the attractive characteristics of the discarded alternatives, there is the risk of regretting the decision taken.


 Then, from anywhere we look, small and big things, material objects, business strategies and lifestyles, it's a matter of choices. For this reason, if we want to better manage our path of innovation, we must necessarily make decisions. How can we contrast the consequences of our "freedom of choice"?


For the moment we will only list them, postponing the single in-dept analysis to our next articles:


1. Eliminate the fear of failure

2. Consider excellence as a direction and not as a destination

3. Balance the choices around the real needs and interests of all those involved in the project or in the process 

4. Simplify

5. Adopt a strategy of continuous improvement


There is no ideal choice, but we should consider from time to time the best practicable one that makes synthesis in terms of costs and opportunities, even more if we are facing the daily tasks in the management of an innovation project.