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    My Own Paradox of Choice

    Posted by Luis Serpa on September 9, 2009 - 6:20 PM

    Little more than 2 months ago I left the company I’ve been working for since I came to the U.S.  With the current state of the economy and unemployment rates, I truly expected to face a long and winding road before deciding my next move, so I tapped my social network for all sorts of opportunities and, before long, I had several good options, including 2 opportunities to start my own business and 2 full-time job offers…

    The reason I’m telling all that is not out of any necessity to boast my feats or toot my own horn (well… Maybe just a little bit), but in fact to show how irrational our reactions can be sometimes.  Instead of being happy with my own good luck and grateful for all the help I got, I actually felt overwhelmed by my options and distressed with the prospect of having to reject offers and let down some of my good friends.

    If you ever read “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz you know exactly where I am getting here  (in case you never heard of it, I recommend watching his talk on Ted).  The book explains how an abundance of choices creates the psychologically daunting task of making sure you are making an unequivocal right decision (which is impossible to assert)  so the more options you have,  the more mentally exhausting is the decision process and higher the expectation on the resulting outcome.

    It is not that bad when one option is clearly superior to all others or when all options are so very similar you can make a matrix of features and just pick whichever offers more.  However, in this case, each of my options seemed to be diametrically opposite to the other and each would appeal to a different aspect of my professional goals and still be too contrasting to be offered by one single place…  It was my own perfect paradox.

    So, knowing that, how could I make a swift and definitive decision without looking back and questioning my own judgment?  Amazingly enough, that wasn’t that difficult. I just turned to the most efficient and fast processing machine I possess:  My own instincts.

    The truth is I am a firm believer of the idea that 95% of what we do (most of our apparent behavior) is driven by decisions made in the unconscious part of our brains. In fact,  several recent neuroscience studies have showed that this irrational part of our brain is capable of processing a huge amount of sensorial input combined with our stored memory so fast that our conscious side doesn’t even have enough time to realize how we came to a conclusion, having then to run after the fact to find a reasoning that will satisfy our own need for rationalization.  So, in short, instincts are nothing else than the sum of all our experience, perceptions and expectations processed almost instantly in that irrational corner of our brains.

    The Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
    Image via Wikipedia

    Although I’ve always believed this idea, the first time I read about it was in 2005, in the book “Blink – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by  Malcolm Gladwell, showing several experiments and situations where spontaneous decisions are often as good as (or even better than) carefully considered ones.  Gladwell argues that intuitive judgment is developed by experience, training and knowledge and claims that, in an age of information overload,  experts often make better decisions with snap judgments than they do with volumes of analysis.

    Blink and Paradox of Choice may seem at odds with each other at first, but despite having different approaches, I believe they are complementary psychological concepts. After all, choices are good.  It’s our need to rationalize all our decisions that lead us to over-expectation, dissatisfaction and indecision. If we keep that in mind, it is perfectly possible to balance our rational and irrational sides to help us make better and informed decisions.

    For me it all just means that I needed to “walk the talk” and “put my brain where my heart is” (no pun intended), so I could stop overanalyzing the options and start trusting my instincts.

    So, without further ado, I am glad to announce this new chapter in my career where I will be working with User Experience Processes at Underwriters Laboratories (headquartered in Northbrook, IL).  I expect to keep this channel open for my rants and ideas and hope to be back soon with more interesting posts.

    See you soon!

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    One Response to “My Own Paradox of Choice”

    1. Gwen Ramirez says:

      Congratulations, Luis! Any place is lucky to have you!

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