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Why a reduction in choice ironically increases satisfaction

The wisdom of having no choice

As a result of the commercial world today, we have become accustomed to the mentality where those who are able to make choices are implied to have a larger resource pool and hence, will tend to be more satisfied with their choices.

A dissenting opinion has been raised recently by Chinese knowledge-sharing app “iGetGet” columnist Jun Wu, who postulates that sometimes, having no choice increases the chances of success and hence, satisfaction. In his column, Wu analyses and explains his view from the viewpoints of: Personal Development, Commercial Models and Administrative Management.

Personal Development: explaining why Indian career developments (and hence satisfaction) in the States are driven by lack of choice

From the viewpoint of personal development, why does reducing choice ironically increase personal satisfaction? In his discussion with Professor Kaiyuan Xi of the University of Chicago, Wu raised a question with regard to the higher percentage of Indians in top management positions of American companies, as compared to Chinese. Granted, there are many reasons such as half a century of earlier global movement of Indians compared to the Chinese and of course, the difference in English proficiency levels of both. However, Professor Xi highlighted a unique perspective, citing that the career achievements of Indians stemmed from their lack of choice. In 2012, an official study by the Indian government cited that 22% of its population still lived below the poverty line. As such, Indians who have had the opportunity to migrate to the States largely prefer to stay in the States, and thus will do whatever they can to ensure that they perform well enough at work to be granted the opportunity to stay and develop their careers.

Personal Development: the lack of choice driving higher Indian marital bliss rates compared to “too much choice” and seeking the “better one coming next” for Americans

In the same vein, this can be used to understand why a higher percentage of Indians experience marital bliss as compared to Americans. The caste system is widely propagated and discriminatory practices based on caste are still widespread, even with the official government stance advising otherwise. As such, strict caste divides leave women of high caste limited choices of partners, and hence there is a tendency for them to appreciate their husbands more once married, which brings marital bliss. Although there are no longer any restrictions on divorce, the choices remaining for divorcees are even lesser and hence, there is a higher tendency for Indians to maintain their marital status once wedded. In a nutshell, limited choice increases appreciation of married Indians for their partners. If you’re married, do take this as a reminder to appreciate your partner more- the grass may not always be greener on the other side, but watering what’s on your side well will definitely make it greener than the other side.

Although it seems as if the Indians only obtain this so-called marital bliss through a resignation to fate, a study by Gallup, Inc. has returned that even with such societal restrictions on the freedom to date and marry in India, the levels of marital bliss experienced by Indians are comparable, if not higher than that of Americans. The levels of marital bliss experienced by Indians in America are also higher than that of Americans themselves. As such, Wu derives the conclusion that the lack of choice compels the Indians to carefully maintain their marriage and families, while the freedom of choice to date and marry, and then divorce and remarry should they find the marriage unsuitable has led many Americans to pursue this alternatives more readily than Indians. However, the study showed that whether or not they have chosen to remarry, their levels of marital bliss/satisfaction had not increased five years on, as compared to when they were still married- and this may have been the consequence of having “too much choice”, and always looking for the “better one next”.

In Commercial Fields: why the “less is more” theory of reducing choice has driven Apple, Google & Toyota’s success in their respective fields

Wu’s postulation has been proven in the commercial fields as well. In the past, many mobile phone manufacturers often manufactured and carried anywhere from ten to hundreds of mobile phones with a spectrum of functions to fulfil the varying needs of their wide range consumers, but were still unable to satisfy all their customers. This stemmed down once again to having too much choice- a consumer who has purchased model A comes into contact with an acquaintance who has purchased model B, and as a result his expectations are raised for his model A to combine the functions of both models. As such, when his model A does not fulfil his heightened expectations, his satisfaction level drops.

In a move that revolutionized the industry, Apple pushed out only one model of phone- the iPhone and has restricted every launch to have only one and in recent years, two models of the upgraded iPhone. Others have summarized the motivating force behind Apple’s success into a one liner- “less is more”, where “less” refers to reducing the choices available.

Other examples of “less is more” include Google’s search engine- where advanced search options are available for use, but are technically restricted to the realm of professional search engine users. As such, the majority of users are restricted to the basic search engine, where they report high levels of satisfaction from their use. The same goes for Toyota- with only a limited number of makes and standardization of the accessories in each make, Toyota has effectively taken away the option to customize as provided by other car manufacturers, but has ensured that every single of their makes has become the top seller in its category in the States. All these have proven that the key to customer satisfaction is to reduce choices that are available to consumers.

In Management: why reducing “if-only” choices and the belief that “not everyone has to be pleased” has been shown to increase overall satisfaction for employees

Lastly, Wu explains how this postulation can be applied in management settings as well. During his tenure as management in Tencent Holdings Limited, Wu once has to oversee the arrangement of an annual overseas retreat for his department. His secretary thus provided two options for the department- the first was to visit Hokkaido for skiing, and the second was to visit Phuket for the sun and the sea. Wu however instructed his secretary to decide on one of the options and to disseminate the decision to the department. He explained it as such: “ If the staff are provided with both options and made the decision to head to either destination, the staff who have chosen to visit Hokkaido but do not know how to ski would have had their spirits dampened, and coupled with the cold would have started to envy those enjoying the sun and the sea in Phuket, while those who have chosen Phuket may have started to tire of the sun and the sea after a couple of days and envied those enjoying the hot springs and sushi in Hokkaido instead.”

Wu further reasoned that if there was only one option, of which he raised Hokkaido as an example, the same staff still would not have known how to ski, or to appreciate the hot springs and Japanese cuisine, but without the “if-only” option of Phuket weighing them down, would still have enjoyed their time trying out new things and would have returned with more appreciation for the company’s employee welfare system.

As such, Wu concludes that while restricting the employees to accepting the location that has been planned for them might not please everyone, there is actually no need to ensure that everyone is pleased- and giving the employees too much choice might actually backfire and incur even more resentment.

So the next time you plan that family holiday or company retreat, consider limiting the choices you provide the rest, as it may actually help them appreciate and enjoy their experience more than choices and regrets would have.

Thus, Wu concludes that the wisdom of having no choice actually shows why a reduction in choice ironically increases satisfaction.


Curated: Sonia Tan

Facebook & Twitter: WisQoSmart

Apr 27, 2017

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