Too Many Choices, Too Much Information

Why more is less.

As Americans, we feel as if we have great advantage through our many choices. We go to the grocery store for ketchup, yet find so many different brands we may end up buying mustard instead.

Barry Schwartz wrote a book about this concept, called The Paradox of Choice:  Why More is Less. He states that in our brains we typically accept that in order to maximize our welfare as people we must have infinite individual freedoms and choices about everything.

In addition to the grocery store, think about how things have changed in health care. In times past your doctor told you what to do about your health. Now doctors present you with options. It was customary just a few decades ago to marry young and begin a family. Today people marry at any age and may or may not have children, and could begin a career first.

Schwartz asserts that more choice has actually made us less happy and in some cases paralyzed us regarding the many decisions that we have to make.

I see this often with farmers. Farming has become more sophisticated in the tools that are offered to help us manage risk and produce profit. There are so many experts available to help in this area, and help is offered in varying degrees: a newsletter, an online chat room, a TV show, a seminar, a banker, an advisor. Then we think about all the sources of information that those experts have access to in order to make their decisions or recommendations. The choices are infinite, and sometimes we're so paralyzed by the decision in front of us that we don't do anything.

Schwartz's book talks about a related example where employees were offered a variety of retirement plan investment options. With every 10 additional options, 2% more employees opted not to make the decision at all, passing up the employers' matching funds.

A critical part of the paradox here is recognizing when you are paralyzed by choice or fear….and doing something about it.

Here is a small way to start. Next time you go to a restaurant, review the menu briefly and select the first thing that looks good. Put the menu down and enjoy the company of the people who came to the restaurant with you. Take note of how that eliminates the stress of such a minor decision.

Certainly it's more complex when it comes to choosing a route for consulting or education around the financial issues of your farming operation. I see many farmers, at times even our clients, agonize over the multitude of differing choices in the market. Some hire multiple advisors while subscribing to additional marketing newsletters to gain more opinions.

I won't suggest that you whittle it down to one – but rather evaluate your decision-making habits… Is this something that you do? Does it add peace of mind to your situation, or take it away?

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