Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Paradox of Choice

The Paradox of Choice is a Google tech talk by Barry Schwartz. He is also the author of the book with the same name (which I haven’t read).

The paradox in the title is that: the more choices we have the worse we feel even though many options gives us the opportunity to make a better choice.

We do better but feel worse!

With more choices we have higher expectations and become more frustrated and less happy when we choose. The frustration and unhappiness continues after the choice is made since we are not sure we made the best choice.

The unhappiness comes from self-blame. If we have no options it is the worlds fault, but if we have many it is our fault since we have to be idiots not to make a good choice with 200 options.

Sometimes we even create the frustrating options ourselves. An example is:

  • A todo list with things we have to.
  • A like-todo list with things we would like to do.

The like-todo-list produces more frustration than the todo-list.

Too many options may also paralyze us into not doing anything! Even though making no choice is obviously the worst decision we can make.


A solution in life is to become a satisficers instead of a maximizers. To make a good choices instead of best choices. It can also be wise to rely on agents to make the choices for us since they are not personally involved.

Solutions for software developers trying to make less frustrating software are:

  • Create smart defaults so that even if the user does not make a choice it is a good one.
  • Create hierarchical options, limiting the number of choices available at a given time. It is important to make smart hierarchies so that the user don’t have to move back up the hierarchy.

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