Thursday, February 25, 2010

Too much choice is bad for your health

We used to think that choice = freedom. But, says Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, too much choice results in decision paralysis.

We find it hard to choose. Which starts us down the slippery slope to raised expectations, dissatisfaction and ultimately, clinical depression.

Walk into any supermarket, electrical goods or clothing store and you instantly face a bewildering array of choices. Hundreds of salad dressings, breakfast cereals and detergents. Multiple brands of music players, washers, dryers and coffee makers. Computers with more features than you will ever use. Jeans used to come in one style. Now they're slim, easy fit, distressed, stone-washed...

In the old days, the doctor gave you advice. Now she gives you options, each with different benefits and risks. The phone company used to rent us one-size-fits-all phones; now we buy our own cell phones, which comes in different colors, shapes, sizes and a flotilla of bells and whistles. We used to get married as soon as we could, now we worry whether to have a career or family first, or whether the girl or guy we're dating is the best we can get.

The problem with too much choice, is if you make a purchase, and it's not as good as expected, you may come to regret your decision. Which detracts from your satisfaction. With so much choice, there's many more ways be disappointed.

Then there's the opportunity cost - the benefits foregone by ignoring other choices. Like the case Schwartz cites of a guy "relaxing" on the beach in the New Hamptons pre-occupied with the idea that, with all his neighbors on holidays, he's unable to benefit from a rarely available parking space on the streets of Manhattan.

It turns out that when we make a choice, we often think it's the wrong choice, and blame ourselves, which detracts from enjoyment of the experience. Or we avoid making a purchasing decision, and miss out in other ways. Contributing further to our misery.

But not all the world is drowning in choice. Schwartz points out that in some parts of the world there is little or no choice. In the poorer countries of Africa, South America, the Middle East or Asia. He wonders whether we in the West could shift some of our surplus choice to where it is needed more.

So here's two workshops to explore how to reduce choice, increase satisfaction and experience happiness:

For customers

1. Make a list of all the things about products/services that make you unhappy, angry, disappointed or concerned.
2. Make a list of all the things about products/services generally that make you happy, delighted or excited.
3. Thinking about a product or service you recently purchased. What was it, what other choices were available and what were there main features/benefits?
4. How satisfied/happy are you now with your recent product/service purchase? How does it compare with other choices?
5. Describe a product or service that has a ridiculous number of features and options that make it diffcult to choose what to buy.
6. Describe a time when you avoided making a purchasing decision because you could not decide.
7. Describe another time when you made a product/service purchase, only to later feel you could have made a better choice.
8. If you had responsibility for the design, manufacturing and retailing of a product/service you are currently considering purchasing, what would you expect in order for you to be pleased, delighted or surprised.

For organizations

1. Think of a product/service category that you offer and describe all the different choices that people have available.
2. Make a list of all the different products and services and the variations available that compete with your product or service?
3. How could you change/transform your product or service so that it either sits within a different product/service category or gives the customer fewer clearer options to choose from?
4. What marketing strategies could you pursue so that you simplify the customer purchase options and at the same time satisfy unique market segments.e.g. separate sales channels only available in the specific geographical regions for the segment you serve.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Starting powerful conversations

Since 1996, when The Vagina Monologies was first performed in New York, thousands of women, and vagina-friendly men, have been inspired or empowered to become "vagina warriors", to fight against the rising tide of violence perpetrated against women.

Stripped of every right, subjected to genital mutilation, gang-raped in parking lots, murdered to satisfy family shame, disfigured as a payback, or simply disappeared. Powerless in the face of brutal husbands or companions, testosterone-laden thugs, archaic cultural practices or warring families, tribes, sects and countries.

Now, thanks to Eve Ensler and her very famous play, women everywhere are claiming back their rights, their bodies and their lives.

The Vagina Monologues tells the intimate stories of hundreds of women she interviewed about their sexual experiences, their feelings, themselves and their bodies. What began as a one-night affair with Susan Sarandon, Glenn Close and Whoopi Goldberg, has now played in 120 countries and 45 languages.

Back then, women rarely spoke about or even had the time to look at their vaginas. All that has changed. Now, woman everywhere, are able to talk openly about issues they face. And work powerfully together to turn back the tide.

Along the way Eve Ensler has found that serving a higher purpose is the key to happiness. That your Mr. Alligator moment (a character she invented to rescue her from the hands of a brutal and sexually abusive alcoholic father), shows up, not for you, but for someone else, who is saved from a similar fate as a result by the collective efforts of a movement that you started. Which indirectly heals that damaged part of you.

And which comes about by giving away what you most want.

So here is a workshop to explore how you too might start an important conversation, about which few dare to speak, and unleash powerful symbolic forces. So the core idea goes global.

1. What do you go weeks, months or even years without noticing, that is really important to you, and could be more center stage in your life.
2. What really important conversation do you need to start so it becomes your "important thing", of equal or more importance to the Vagina Monologues?
3. Make a list of all the common/uncommon names for your "important thing."
4. What powerful symbolic social/theatrical/physical event could you stage which ensure your conversation becomes contagious?
5. To be really happy, how can you give away what you want the most?
6. How do you keep going, when, by pursuing your life's most important work, you become an outcast in your community, exiled and slandered for daring to do something vitally important?
7. What for you could become your most fabulous Mr. Alligator moment, which may not rescue you from your troubles at the time, but when the day arrives, rescues others, and in the process, heals the broken part in you too?
8. What powerful symbols could you employ that summon others to your cause?