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Too Much Choice

Nov 9, 2007
This has happened to me. Maybe it's because I don't normally do the grocery shopping. I've gone into the supermarket or drug store for a tube of toothpaste and found myself confronted with three or four dozen varieties of toothpaste. Why? It's a fairly simple substance. We use it every day, hopefully twice. So why are there so many to choose from? We've got cream paste, gel, gel with sparkles, whitening toothpaste, some with baking soda, others for sensitive gums. There's toothpastes for kids, natural toothpastes, and all come in various flavors. Once we figure out what brand and flavor we want, then we have to figure out what size we need. Travel? Economy? Family sized?

Some of us can choose in seconds--we buy what our parents bought. Or we buy what we require for a specific condition (i.e. sensitive gums). Some people stay brand loyal, some experiment. Of course, when our parents were growing up, there weren't even a quarter as many of pastes to choose from.

Toothpaste is a fairly minor decision and yet, it illustrates how many choices we're confronted with every day. What car we drive, which cell phone providers we use, the brands we eat, wear and use. . . `

Barry Schwartz, professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, has written a book called, 'The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less-How The Culture of Abundance Robs us of Satisfaction'. It is a very interesting look at how the ever expanding amount of 'choice' we have in every dimension of our lives is eroding the simple pleasures that used to be omnipresent.

This is a very valid perspective as it relates to what we do in the world, what we buy, what we let define us. Are you special? Or are there a million other people just like you? How can your existence simplify the life of your prospect or client?

We've been told that the goal of choice is to liberate us and give us more control over our lives, to give us autonomy and a sense of individuality. Mr. Schwartz suggests '. . . (A)s the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded.'

Because we sell products or services, we have to keep in the forefront of our minds that there are many, many similar products and services out there. What makes us special is that we have the key to reach into the core of our affluent prospects and clients to discover what they need through their values and criteria. We know how to establish rapport, elicit their criteria and core values, and establish ourselves as the answer to their needs.

Schwartz writes of the political philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who beautifully described the continuum of towards and away in his distinction between 'negative liberty' and 'positive liberty'. He says, "Negative liberty is 'freedom from'-freedom from constraint, freedom from being told what to do by others. Positive liberty is 'freedom to'-the availability of opportunities to be the author of your life and to make it meaningful and significant."

A better description of the 'towards/away' continuum has never been given. As we elicit our clients' and prospects' desires, are they moving toward being free from constraints or moving towards freedom? Do we find ourselves working with a person who sees the opportunities in life? And in what ways can we find the paradox of choice at play in our business lives?
About the Author
Kenrick Cleveland teaches techniques to earn the business of affluent clients using persuasion. He runs public and private seminars and offers home study courses and coaching programs in persuasion techniques.
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