Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Paradox of Choice

I was eating an early lunch today and clicked through to TED.com to check out the latest roster of speakers.

I had come across the site, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, through my friend and neighbor, Kelly Moynahan (who was formerly with the Co-op). Kelly sent a link to a talk by Sir Ken Robinson on "Do schools kill creativity?"

I had seen this one before and clicked through to Barry Schwartz's talk on "The Paradox of Choice." I read his book a few years ago, enjoyed hearing him, and felt his talk was apropos given the taste tests we've done lately.

Schwartz argues that while more choices in life can be good (we all know about the upside of having more choices), more choices can also be bad (Schwartz wrote a book to demonstrate the downside of having too many choices).

He argues that more choice creates a kind of paralysis (for example, when employers offer more mutual fund choices in retirement plans, voluntary participation goes down, since more funds require more evaluation, so it's easier to put off a decision).

Second, once we've made a decision, the attractive features of the other choices haunt us, leading to dissatisfaction.

I've been haunted by the paradox of choice in finalizing the Constant Health formula. We've tweaked the flavoring and I have kept wondering what the real cost-benefit is for "keeping it simple" and getting on with it versus "making it better."

With the former mindset, I tell myself that "it's not dessert" and people will "doctor it up" in a variety of ways.

In the latter mindset, I worry about getting the taste "just right" to appeal to the greatest number of people. It's that satisfier/maximizer conundrum again.

Yesterday, however, was encouraging. We had four clinical practitioners try samples. They said our formula was "better" than what they are using today. They also asked, "when can we order some?"

Further, they always ask people to blend in some extra whey protein, which adds flavor and sweetness (and would mellow out the taste of our "concentrated nutrition" formula). All good, so far.

Interestingly enough, the vanilla flavor is a bigger hit with people out west, while Teri and Stephen and others preferred the chocolate flavor back east. We have a few more baggies of fine powder making their way to tasters in other parts of the country, so we'll see if this trend holds.

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