The tyranny of choices
BUSINESS MATTERS (BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE) - Francis J. Kong (The Philippine Star) - October 24, 2020 - 12:00am

I used to think there was something wrong with me. My head swims with thousands of ideas almost every moment of the day. The “Ilocana” and the kids laugh at me all the time. A dilemma awaits me when I try to park my car in the shopping mall parking lot. It is effortless for me to choose a spot when there are a few slots left, but when the place is practically empty, I find it hard to decide where to park. Something is going on.

Many years ago, I came across business gurus talking about “The Choice Industry.” Authors Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin in their book “Repositioning” talked about it. They say in many ways that the market now offers too many choices and options such that the choice challenge has produced an industry of its own: The emergence of businesses dedicated to helping people with their choices.

They said, “Everywhere you turn, someone is offering advice on which of the 8,000 mutual funds to buy. Or how to find the right dentist in St. Louis. Or the right program from among hundreds of business schools. (Which one will help me get a Wall Street job?).”

There are magazines like Consumer Reports and Consumers Digest dealing with the onslaught of products and choices by rotating the categories they report. The only problem is that they go into so much detail that you’re more confused than you were when you started.

Consider what Carol Moog, Ph.D., has to say on the subject: “Too many choices, all of which can be fulfilled instantly, indulged immediately, keeps children-and adults-infantile. From a marketing perspective, people stop caring, get as fat and fatigued as geese destined for foie gras, and lose their decision-making capabilities. They withdraw and protect against the overstimulation; they get ‘bored.’”

Maybe this is the reason why most people today no longer know how to think critically. Choice can hinder the motivation to buy.

Have you ever thought about how hard it is to choose a movie you want to watch on Netflix? Have you seen the number of apps competing to occupy a space in your smartphones?

Swarthmore College sociology professor Barry Schwartz wrote a book about these turnoffs. He called it The Paradox of Choice. Speaking at an industry forum in 2006, he said: “People are so overwhelmed with choice that it tends to paralyze them. Too much choice makes people more likely to defer decisions. It raises expectations and makes people blame themselves for choosing poorly. You don’t expect much if there are only two pairs of jeans to choose from. If there are hundreds, you expect one to be perfect.”

Ever since I discovered this concept, it has helped me a lot. I began to understand that life improvement does not necessarily come by addition, and it also has a great deal to do with purposeful reduction and elimination. Too many choices become tyrannical. Maybe this is why I have chosen a simple and quiet life. To focus on loving God, knowing Him, and loving my family. To stick to just a few essential tasks, I need to do that would bring value to my success goals in life. I have learned to focus only on my core when it comes to training, writing, and speaking. I have learned to respectfully and politely decline invitations to speak if what clients want would not be in sync with what I can offer.

I have learned to choose reading books, articles, and other materials that would add value to what I know and what I do. I choose to be happy with my family than to look for it in a happy hour. I choose to provide more than what I am paid for. Simultaneously, to eliminate the temptation to cruise on my competence, grab my clients’ money, and run. I choose to develop the vendor-client relationship into a relationship based on trust and fairness that even evolves into friendship over time. I choose to be faithful than to market my values to the highest bidder.

The pandemic has eliminated a lot of fluff, bling, and fakery, and it has allowed us the occasion to reflect on what is unnecessary from what is essential. These simple choices guide my life, and they are easy to do. And yes, I still struggle to choose in which slot to park my car, but when it makes my family love more, laugh hard, and smile often, it’s a good and the right choice to make after all.

(Connect with Francis Kong at Or listen to “Business Matters” Monday to Friday 8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. over 98.7 dzFE-FM ‘The Master’s Touch,’ the classical music station.)

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