The Deception of choice: having fewer options is not all that bad
I think I am over decision-making. Having spent all of my working life researching decision-making, coaching others to make decisions, and being paid to make decisions, the last thing I realise I want to do in my spare time is to make decisions.
I am sure all of the catch-up services available to us are a boon, but I seem to recall I spent the 1980s recording onto VHS video cassettes episodes of “must not miss” Brideshead Revisited, Coronation Street, the snooker or classic films shown at 3am. I don’t think any of these were ever watched.
Now I find I make one decision to watch Eight Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown, and the rest of my evening is served up by SBS without me having to engage in decision-making, and I like it. A lot.
On rare occasions I do want to watch something in particular. Last weekend I wanted to see the 1942 film The Man Who Came to Dinner. Apple TV? Nope. Netflix? Nope. Stan. The same. Criterion Channel. Forget about it. I felt like the hapless customer in Monty Python’s cheese shop, who after asking for every and any cheese known to humankind discovers they have no cheese. There is nothing worse than being promised a choice only to find you can’t have your preferred selection.
All of this emphasis on personal choice, something that is frequently promoted in career development, can have the effect of putting unnecessary pressure on the individual.
It pre-supposes we know what we want, and it serves to reduce the possibility of being pleasantly surprised. Practically every party I have ever been reluctantly dragged along to, turned out to be a pleasant surprise. We frequently do not know what we are going to like, and almost always either have no clue what is good for us, or know exactly and then ignore the fact. Humans do not operate on logic.
Of course, a lot of what passes for choice, is an elaborate manipulation. We turn up weekly to be seduced by the banter of market traders or the product placement, environmental cues and scents employed by supermarkets to nudge us toward the fartiest baked beans or the optimal combo of fat, sugar and salt.
The same applies with career decisions. Despite all the nonsense rhetoric suggesting we can do anything we like, we overwhelmingly tend to stay close to both our physical homes and our deemed skills and experiences. We also tend to be drawn in by brands, despite the realities.Advertisement
I once made a video in what seemed like the funky Ultimo offices of an internationally funky company. By accident, I wandered out of the carefully staged funky meeting rooms to discover a back-office comprised of a distinctly unfunky sea of office dividers. I could have been in a call centre. In fact, I realised that is exactly what this operation was, despite the rhetoric. But candidates were lining up to work in “funky town”.
Decision-making holds out the promise of personal control in a reality where, as confronting as it may feel, there are limits on our personal control. Sometimes it is good for us to appreciate that, to go with the flow, explore a bit and be pleasantly surprised.
Jim Bright, FAPS is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright
Original article published in Sydney Morning Herald