Too many choices can paralyze people into inaction. Barry Schwartz can free you from such imprisonment by teaching you to filter the amount of available choices in order to choose the one that will be the most satisfying. His work has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation. He is a fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science.
The international financial crisis of the last two years has vividly illustrated how,when things go wrong, people are quick to reach for two tools to fix them: more and better rules, and smarter incentives. This talk will show that neither rules nor incentives are adequate substitutes for character. To induce people to do the right thing, we need to figure out how to get them to want to do the right thing. Rules and incentives may make things better in the short run. But they make things worse in the long run, by demoralizing activities and demoralizing the people who engage in the activities. The task before us—in finance, in education, in medicine, in law, and in virtually any occupation that involves human interaction—is to find ways to nurture character rather than destroying it.
Practical wisdom is the master virtue essential to solving problems of specificity, relevance, and conflict that inevitably arise whenever character strengths must be translated into action in concrete situations. Practical wisdom is becoming increasingly difficult to nurture and display in modern society, so that attention must be paid to reshaping social institutions to encourage the use of practical wisdom rather than inhibiting it.
The logic behind the presumption that if some choice is good, more choice is better seems compelling. But in his ground breaking work, Barry Schwartz has found evidence that there can be too much of a good thing-that a point can be reached at which options paralyze rather than liberate. From consumer products, to Medicare prescription drug plans, media choices, travel options and even financial services, Schwartz' research has shown that when confronted with overwhelming choices the vast majority of us will either end up unhappy with the choice we make, or choose to not make a choice at all.
The new Medicare prescription drug plan will save senior citizens billions of dollars, so why are so many of them afraid to sign up for it? There is now ample evidence that when you increase choice by offering more and more options, a point is reached at which paralysis rather than "freedom" is the result.
A central aim of public policy in a democratic society should be improving the welfare of its citizens. Even when resources are plentiful, this is an extremely challenging task, because of the difficulty of determining what "welfare" consists in. Thus, collective welfare requires freedom, freedom entails choice, and choice is enhanced by wealth. The more choice people have, the better. But though the logic of choice may be compelling, there is growing evidence that the psycho logic is not. Indeed, there is growing evidence that for many people, increased choice produces decreases in satisfaction-sometimes even misery; that it sometimes produces paralysis, not liberation.
Both Colleges and the students in them are afflicted with choice overload. Colleges torture themselves and millions of high school students trying to select the very best applicants. Students torture themselves trying to select the best colleges. And once they're in college, and offered almost no guidance about what to study, students are lost in an ocean of course possibilities. Students are less satisfied with their experiences than they should be, and completely uncertain about what their future should be. All of this misery is produced in the name of "freedom" and "excellence." It is wasteful of time and energy and it can and should be fixed.
Have you ever heard anyone say "I only want what's 'good enough' for my child"? In this talk, Schwartz makes the case that "good enough" will produce happier kids and more relaxed parents than the quest for the elusive best.
TAGS: Strategy, TED