A proven, exciting Retirement planning process for individuals and couples, The Best-Half is a combination of workshops, coaching and personal reflection. It was developed by experienced coaches and educators. For organizations, The Best-Half is a process to be used in succession management especially for transitions and to establish common goals and objectives in the senior phases of a career.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Too many choices not enough dirty laundry

I remember when I was a student of Economics that one of the first theories learned is that of supply and demand. As the supply of a commodity decreases because of people wanting that commodity, the price goes up. We also learned that choice was largely a function of price.  This was after all the early 1970s and the revolution of choice had not hit stores and services. There was one type of Tide. SHOCKING!! The choice was Tide or Cheer or maybe one other type of laundry detergent. Fast forward to today and laundry detergent covers half an acre of shelf space. The variety and choice are mind-boggling.

For 10 years, Columbia professor Sheena Iyengar has been studying choice.  For her research paper, “When Choice is Demotivating”, they ran a great test:

They set up a free tasting booth in a grocery store, with six different jams.  40% of the customers stopped to taste.  30% of those bought some.

A week later, they set up the same booth in the same store, but this time with twenty-four different jams.  60% of the customers stopped to taste.  But only 3% bought some!

Both groups actually tasted an average of 1.5 jams.  So the huge difference in buying can't be blamed on the 24-jam customers being full.  :-)   Lessons learned:

   1. Having many choices seems appealing (40% vs 60% stopped to taste)

   2. Having many choices makes them 10 times less likely to buy (30% vs 3% actually bought)

So, if you ask your customers if they want extensive choice, they will say they do - but they really don't. Why do the people that produce products not realize this? I believe it has to do with a lack of courage. Unwilling or unable to develop products that are truly unique and then saying so means that in order to divert our attention from the mundane nature of the products we are instead inundated with choice. When there are five different types of scents (or 15) for Tide, there is less of a chance that there is a possibility that someone can come along with a truly innovative product because there is no longer shelf space in an already crowded grocery store. There is a lot of choice but little possibility of something unique standing out.

I recently ate at two restaurants that have a unique slant on choice. The Palm Club in Dayton, Ohio has been a landmark since the 1940s. It specializes in streak. It is a “steak house.” It does not offer reservations, it takes only cash (only one choice of payment) and it does not offer desert (no choice). It is a very busy place where you know exactly what is expected and where they know what they do best. We were in Montreal recently and went to another restaurant. Also a steak restaurant, we were surprised to see only two offerings on the menu. One choice was soup, salad, steak, French fries and desert. The other choice was the same minus the soup and desert. No choice of steak and no substitutions. Not many empty tables even at 10 pm when we left. Both proprietors know what they do best and then stick to it.

What about choices and possibilities in our career life?

Theoretically every career opportunity is available to every new born baby. This infinite list of possibility declines as a factor of time, geography, personality, instinct, intelligence, interest, education and aptitude. Not everyone can be in a Rock Band.

I think the perceived lack of possibility in our careers and in our lives is a learned behaviour. Parents, teachers, coaches, spouses, friends and employers tell us what we are good at or what we are not good at and we believe them. Sometimes they are not right.

Personally I am also much more interested in finding out what it is that says I am uniquely brilliant at. Good is boring. The Palm Club must be doing something right.

Possibility involves emotion and excitement. There needs to be a sense of excitement and there is no excitement in choosing Fresh Scent Tide or Febreeze Tide or No Scent Tide or Summer Scent Tide. Maybe if there was Butterscotch Tide or Barbeque Steak Tide.

There is however, excitement in the possibility of a stretch assignment, a new mandate, a foreign posting or a new team to lead.

Often we don’t see what our own possibilities could be, or can’t think of what they are. In our original development for Best-Half we thought about having participants list their work and life possibilities starting with a blank page. We found that most people listed 2 or 3 possibilities and then “ran out of gas.” So we listed 50 work possibilities and 50 life possibilities. The amazing consequence of this is that participants continue to come up with more new possibilities. The possibilities we give serve to stimulate their own thought process, creating excitement for the idea of possibility in their own minds spurning them on to new ideas and maybe thinking about dreams as possibilities as well. These new possibilities become more than just the abstract resulting in action plans taking shape.

Courage to see possibilities and the motivation to act on possibilities separates those who see the glass half full from those who see it half empty.

Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.
John Updike

Dwell in possibility.
Emily Dickinson

Enter every activity without giving mental recognition to the possibility of defeat. Concentrate on your strengths, instead of your weaknesses... on your powers, instead of your problems.
Paul J. Meyer


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