Too many choices — the problem with Baskin-Robbins and why In-N-Out is awesome.
Baskin-Robbins is a wonderful little ice cream parlor chain. Also known as “31 Flavors,” it was my ice cream shop of choice as a toddler. Since then, I’ve seen many a Baskin-Robbins close, and it seems that their strength in the ice cream industry has diminished. Why is this? It turns out that as much as Burger King likes to make you think so, we don’t like it our way. Too many choices is a bad thing.
Often when we’re put into a position of having to choose something, we don’t have a specific preference. When we want to go out to eat, sometimes we deliberate for an hour only to decide to go to the place we thought of first. Why do we have such a tough time choosing? Psychologist Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice concludes something very fascinating — we aren’t happy with what’s best, we’re happy with what is easiest.
You live in California, so you’ve hopefully had In-N-Out. Why do we love it so much? Why is it the most popular road trip destination? Hearing someone say they had In-N-Out recently invokes a feeling of extreme envy and awe at this seemingly legendary burger, fries and a shake. But why are they so successful? Sure, their burgers are delicious. But also their menu only has three options: a burger, a cheeseburger and a double-double. Compare that with Jack in the Box, where you can order anything from a salad to a breakfast burrito to a chicken sandwich to tacos and everything in between.
It’s not coincidence that the most expensive sit-down restaurants all have only a few options for main courses. As Schwartz points out, less is more and more is less. Having too many options provides proportionately more opportunities for feeling like you made the wrong choice.
Why did Google kick the shit out of Yahoo when it came out? Maybe because Google has just two options: “Search” and “I’m Feeling Lucky.”
Cognitive dissonance is what happens when we have wants or ideas that are conflicting. Ladies, I’m sure you can relate as you stand in your closet filled with clothes that are all cute, but you stand there helpless. Blue or green? Dress or jeans and a blouse? Please stop asking me, I don’t care. Just decide on one, get dressed, put on your makeup and almost walk out the door as fast as you can, so you can change your mind three or four times before finally leaving, only to be upset about what you’re wearing once you leave.
And girls, I’m not hating on you unfairly; we men have the same feeling as we stare into the pantry or fridge filled with food and find we have nothing to eat.
Removing excess choices also removes the ability to be remorseful about not choosing them, which helps us be more confident about the choices we ultimately make. We do what we can to convince ourselves that the choices we make are the right ones, but a big problem with the paradox of choice comes from its ability to render us paralyzed during times when we’d be better to just decide and move on without stressing out.
Whether you’re stuck deciding on just which toothpaste to buy out of the hundreds in the aisle that are, let’s face it, identical or wasting time choosing the absolute best outfit for the party, you’re probably still going to end up naked the next morning with smelly breath. That’s I.V. for you.
Daily Nexus columnist Kevin Ferguson always regrets the two-tacos-for-99-cents deal from Jack in the Box.