The Art of Choosing

If you’ve ever read research about “choice paralysis” you’ve probably been reading about the work of Sheena Iyengar (we talk about her speed dating and 401k studies in Switch).  She has a beautiful new book out about her work and the broader cultural consequences of choosing.  You’ll learn that not every culture venerates choice like Americans, and her insights will be useful to you if you work in a global organization, deal with global consumers, or just want to see the world through keener eyes. Check it out:

Do we overexpose ourselves to temptation?

If you have any patience at all for academic articles, you’ll find this one captivating. Three researchers find that when we are confident about our impulse-control abilities, it backfires on us, because we allow ourselves to get into tempting situations — and then we end up caving. Whereas people who are more skeptical about their self-control will tend to avoid those temptations altogether. (By the way, don’t miss experiment 3 — a comical case study in temptation involving smokers and the Jarmusch film Coffee and Cigarettes.)

Here’s a teaser:

Consider these common dilemmas. Can recovering alcoholics ever return to the people and places that once nurtured their addiction without fear of relapse? Can dieters visit their favorite buffet without bingeing? Can people committed to their marriage have drinks with past flings without fear of being unfaithful? The answers to questions like these, it would seem, hinge largely on one’s belief about the human capacity for impulse control.

… [In this article, we] argue that people generally, unlike Odysseus, exhibit a restraint bias: a tendency to overestimate one’s capacity for impulse control. The restraint bias matters because it leads people to overexpose themselves to temptation, thereby promoting impulsive behavior.

Switch media round-up

Here’s more than you’d ever want to know about Switch:

REVIEWS: … Wall Street JournalChris BroganKatya AndresenPublisher’s WeeklyCare2Time Magazine

INTERVIEWS: … Inc. MagazineMojo Mom podcastAuthor podcast series [requires registration] … Dave Ramsey [link coming soon]

EXCERPTS OR ARTICLES: … The first chapter of SwitchFast Company: The “bright spots” excerptParade Magazine: “Make Changes that Last”Open Forum: Five Ways to Make Change EasierTechCrunch: “The War on Interruptions”

Situation problems vs. people problems

In Switch, we point out that what looks like a “people problem” is often a “situation problem.” Here’s a great story from a 3rd-grader teacher who came to that conclusion when he noticed that another teacher’s students were doing a better job getting their assignments in on time…

Underachieving multitaskers

Stanford researchers ran a series of experiments, hoping to find evidence that people who multitask have enhanced cognitive abilities that allow them to juggle multiple media effectively. Instead, they came away disappointed: The multitaskers were worse than a control group at everything they tested.

“We kept looking for what they’re better at, and we didn’t find it,” said Ophir, the study’s lead author and a researcher in Stanford’s Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab. …

“They’re suckers for irrelevancy,” said communication Professor Clifford Nass, one of the researchers whose findings are published in the Aug. 24 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Everything distracts them.”

I feel like the next logical step is some kind of pseudo-Olympic event to settle this once and for all. Multitaskers vs. One-Track-Minders. Cage match.