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Don't make me choose


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Ronan's report

Sunday June 17th 2012

I was in a big supermarket the other day looking at biscuits (again). There are an unbelievable number to choose from, more than 100 different types at least. Normally I'm pretty focused on the biscuit run; it's either Caramel Digestives or Jaffa Cakes with a fall back position of either plain or milk chocolate digestives if pushed. I can casually waft down the aisle and pluck the required packet(s) off the shelf without actually having to stop the trolley, heading off to the tea aisle (Scottish Blend or Yorkshire, thanks very much) knowing that biscuit objectives are met for the week.

I'll also be feeling chuffed that I've minimised the time spent shopping and maximised the time available for tea and biscuits, and possibly fishing.

But once, like I did, you stop and look at the full pantheon of choice available it's a nightmare. Standing in the middle of the biscuits they seemed to stretch away in both directions beyond my field of view. It was like being in a biscuit IMAX cinema. If I'd wanted to systematically go through all the choices of flavours, textures, and sizes I'd have been there for hours.

We all value choice. If a market researcher asks you if you'd welcome more choice on anything you'll probably answer in the affirmative. Why not? Surely greater choice is always a good thing?

Not always.

Some researchers have looked at people's behaviour in shops when confronted with different levels of choice. A little choice is a good thing, encouraging people to buy stuff. However once the level of choice is increased beyond a certain threshold people tend to give up and not buy anything at all. It all becomes too much trouble and too complex.

I think this is because most people can only hold so many trade-offs in their mind at once. Once these trade-offs become too complex the brain gives up and moves on to something less taxing.

Choosing is almost always about trade-offs. Whether it's choosing biscuits or cars; choosing where to fish or what to fish for; what fly to use or what rod to buy, there's hardly ever a SINGLE PERFECT ANSWER.

The non-existence of the SINGLE PERFECT ANSWER is the reason consumer magazines and comparison web sites do so well. It's the reason why we have rooms full of fly rods and more fly boxes than we can fit in a vest. It's the reason we fish so many different places for so many different kinds of fish. It's the reason that every time Al Pyke and I meet up we add another couple of places to our must-fish bucket lists.

In the end I guess we all love having all this choice. It's just the actual choosing that is the nightmare.

Me? I think I'd rather:
catch one big fish than catch lots of small ones;
fish everyday and catch one fish than fish once and catch ten.

Just don't make me choose.

I'd rather: have less money and lots of time than lots of money and little time; be on-time and two-thirds right than late and 100% correct; arrive harassed than never get there, travelling in peace.

Just don't make me choose.

I'd rather:
be understood and hated, than misunderstood and loved;
be free and hungry, than oppressed and well fed.

Just don't make me choose.


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