Reflections

Choosing is easier when the options are fewer

By Nick Twinamatsiko:

Choosing is easier when the real options are fewer!

When we had to choose subjects back in the day, students who had trouble with some subjects had an easier time in choosing than those who had no trouble with any of the subjects. If, for instance, one had to choose between French, CRE and Political Education, and it was only French that he was on talking terms with, selection was easier for him than it was for someone else who had an easy way in all the subjects. Also, the students than had no athletic ability found it easier to choose to concentrate on studies than their more athletically gifted peers did. Of course, they would later turn around and say: those guys went into sports because they couldn't handle books! They should, perhaps, have said: we concentrated on studies and passed because we didn't really have many options!

In business, when there is a monopoly, the quality of the goods/services may be poor, and the prices may be unfair, but the public will still choose the goods/services without hesitation. When there are rival suppliers, buyers will find it necessary to consult their experience or their fellows or the newspapers or the billboards before making the next purchase. In other words, the increase in options makes choosing a more demanding exercise.

In religion, it's easy for a man to choose a particular faith if it's the only one he has been exposed to. But if he listens to a Rabbi, and then to a bishop, and then to an Imam, he will find it a little harder to decide on the religious path to take.

In courts, the judges would have an easier time reaching verdicts if there was only the prosecuting side to listen to.

Choosing is Easier When the Factors are Fewer/the Analysis Shallower:

If the buyer presented with multiple options had price as the sole basis for making a choice, his choosing wouldn't be as difficult as it would be if other considerations, such as quality, effectiveness, prestige, and so forth, were to be weighed in.

Similarly, a girl presented with many religious options may find it easy to make her pick if all that matters is the levels of truth she discerns in the options. But if her father will murder her if she chooses to be a Jewess, or if her boyfriend will abandon her if she chooses to be a Muslim, or if the school she attends will expel her if she chooses to be a catholic, then there are many factors to weigh in, and her decision making is more complex.

But let's forget the girl and stick with the buyer. It's possible for him to base his purchasing decision solely on price, even when he should factor in things such as quality, durability, prestige, and so forth. This could happen because he is naïve or shallow or ignorant. In his book, Notes from the Underground, the great Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, calls it lack of consciousness.  Because the buyer isn't conscious of the other factors that he should weigh into his decision making, he finds it easy to reach a decision.

The American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr, used to speak of 'the paralysis of analysis'. This is when you bring so many factors into the analysis that you fail to reach a conclusion. ‘The direct fruit of consciousness,' writes Dostoevsky 'is inertia, that is, conscious sitting-with-the-hands-folded.' Sitting-with-the-hands-folded is what Martin Luther King Jr called the paralysis of analysis.

Dostoevsky adds: 'All 'direct' persons and men of action are active just because they are stupid and limited…in consequence of their limitation, they persuade themselves more quickly and easily than other people do that they have found an infallible foundation for their activity, and their minds are at ease and you know that's the chief thing. To begin to act, you know, you must first have your mind completely at ease and no trace of doubt left in it.'

After reading this paragraph, I understood at once why it's the men of limited intellects that tend to dominate the political and business spheres. They may reach wrong decisions, but they reach them quickly and convert them into actions while the geniuses are still paralyzed in analysis.

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