Episode 183: Barry Schwartz – The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

Barry Schwartz studies the link between economics and psychology, offering startling insights into modern life. Lately, working with Ken Sharpe, he’s studying wisdom. In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz tackles one of the great mysteries of modern life: Why is it that societies of great abundance — where individuals are offered more freedom and choice (personal, professional, material) than ever before — are now witnessing a near-epidemic of depression? Conventional wisdom tells us that greater choice is for the greater good, but Schwartz argues the opposite: He makes a compelling case that the abundance of choice in today’s western world is actually making us miserable.

Infinite choice is paralyzing, Schwartz argues, and exhausting to the human psyche.It leads us to set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them and blame our failures entirely on ourselves. His relatable examples, from consumer products (jeans, TVs, salad dressings) to lifestyle choices (where to live, what job to take, who and when to marry), underscore this central point: Too much choice undermines happiness.

Schwartz’s previous research has addressed morality, decision-making and the varied inter-relationships between science and society. Before Paradox he published The Costs of Living, which traces the impact of free-market thinking on the explosion of consumerism — and the effect of the new capitalism on social and cultural institutions that once operated above the market, such as medicine, sports, and the law. (From Ted.com)
Both books level serious criticism of modern western society, illuminating the under-reported psychological plagues of our time. But they also offer concrete ideas on addressing the problems, from a personal and societal level.

Episode 183: Barry Schwartz – The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

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The Learning Leader Show

“When you have infinite choice… Instead of being liberated, you get paralyzed.”

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • Common themes to sustain excellence:
    • People really care about what they’re trying to achieve
    • They want to change people’s lives
  • Why the leaders of organizations must give their employees opportunities to stretch, and demonstrate mastery
  • Why Barry wore shorts during his legendary TED Talk
  • People think the more choices we have, the better we’ll be. It has limits…
  • The consequences with ease of communication — “People are thinking less, and talking more.”
  • Why Twitter is bad
  • Daniel Kahneman’s work — System 1 and System 2
  • Why are movies on an airplane better?
  • The proper way to set expectations
  • The secret to happiness
  • How to manage expectations:
    • Make the rare not common – ie: Deliberately drink great wine infrequently
  • Why are people affiliated with organized religion happier? — Less to do with religion and more to do with community. Most religions are full of constraints
  • “Why We Work” — Dan Pink’s work on this is fantastic
  • The future of work — A world full of contractors

“The secret to happiness is low expectations.” — Barry Schwartz

Continue Learning:

You may also like these episodes:

Episode 078: Kat Cole – From Hooters Waitress To President of Cinnabon

Episode 071: Nate Boyer – Green Beret, Texas Football, The NFL

Episode 073: Jay Bilas – World Class ESPN Basketball Broadcaster, Toughness, Fixing The NCAA

Episode 107: Simon Sinek – Leadership: It Starts With Why

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Episode edited by the great J Scott Donnell

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