Thursday, July 29, 2010

How We Make Choices

This is a very interesting talk by Sheena Iyengar based on studies of how people in different cultures view and make choices. It's important on two levels:
  1. Our consumer based economy is driven by choice. The relationship between choice and economic growth is not covered in this talk. But, it gives you a lot of insight into how our equating freedom of choice with a good life is trapping us.
  2. It's important to collaboration, community efforts and the understanding of an innovation commons. For these types of efforts to work, choice is not a freedom but a responsibility toward the group. This is most often seen in how we look at ecology and the future.
Sheena Iyengar studies how we make choices -- and how we feel about the choices we make. At TEDGlobal, she talks about both trivial choices (Coke v. Pepsi) and profound ones, and shares her groundbreaking research that has uncovered some surprising attitudes about our decisions.

We all think we're good at making choices; many of us even enjoy making them. Sheena Iyengar looks deeply at choosing and has discovered many surprising things about it. For instance, her famous "jam study," done while she was a grad student, quantified a counterintuitive truth about decisio nmaking -- that when we're presented with too many choices, like 24 varieties of jam, we tend not to choose anything at all. (This and subsequent, equally ingenious experiments have provided rich material for Malcolm Gladwell and other pop chroniclers of business and the human psyche.)

Iyengar's research has been informing business and consumer-goods marketing since the 1990s. But she and her team at the Columbia Business School throw a much broader net. Her analysis touches, for example, on the medical decision making that might lead up to choosing physician-assisted suicide, on the drawbacks of providing too many choices and options in social-welfare programs, and on the cultural and geographical underpinning of choice. She's just published her first book, The Art of Choosing, which shares her research in an accessible and charming story that draws examples from her own life.

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