Having polished off Sheena Iyengar’s The Art of Choosing this week, I had some time over the weekend to reflect on the apparent rising trend of “choice” as a topic (either primary or secondary) in a good number of recent, leading business books. In his latest, Drive, Dan Pink spent a great deal of time discussing “autonomy” and the desire employees have for choice (aka “control) over their time, team, tasks and environment. Seth Godin wrote Linchpin as a call to action to all those considering Choosing to step beyond their job descriptions and create real value. Delivering Happiness looked at the incredible impact that choosing what you stand for as a company can have. Choice is definitely a hot topic these days.
But I think it’s always been there. When we go back to the “greats” – the Good to Greats and Seven Habits of Highly Effective People of the literary past – we see the same messages. Successful people choose the important over the urgent, and to only play in fields where they can be #1 or #2.
The message of the importance of choice hasn’t changed. People who have been reading business books for 50 years have heard it a thousand times before. The interesting change here isn’t the message, but the audience. The Art of Choosing is a pop psychology book, in the vein of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point, Blink or Outliers, or Dubner and Levitt’s Freakonomics. It’s not written for the business world. It’s written for the general public (albeit the more intellectual portion of said public).
Is it possible that the sheer abundance of option that bombards our every decision is forcing us to understand and address the importance of choice? Where 50 years ago, it might have been a snap decision to choose a restaurant for a weekly dinner out, or which program to watch on TV, we now have literally more options than we could ever enjoy. What sort of impact does this excess have on our psyche? What sort of stress does it cause, constantly knowing we’re missing out on something? We may not think about it that way consciously, but you’ve got to wonder…
Iyengar does a great job of introducing us to the subject, but I think we still have a lot to learn about the long term impact of limitless choice.
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