Steve Polo

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

“Too much plenty no good” (“Liian paljon paljon mitään hyvää”)– Juha Polojarvi, a Finnish philosopher (my grandfather)

Much has been written and discussed about the notion of ‘choice’ in the design of the workplace. Design group after design group has made the idea of choice the hallmark of their designs and the baseline of determining whether a design solution is successful. Notionally based on the idea that people don’t do the same thing all day long, logic suggests they need a variety of spaces – choice – to do these different tasks they presumably can’t or don’t do at their individual workspace or in a meeting room. This begs the question – are these spaces being used at all? And while related, another question all together comes to mind:

Who doesn’t think choice is a good thing?

Of course, everyone thinks choice is a good thing. Clearly, most companies who build products or compete in selling products thinks everyone wants a choice. Just go to your local grocery and see how many brands there are of cereal, or pizza, or cookies, or gluten-free muffins… you get my drift. (By the way, my local grocery store has 150 kinds of beer). Of course you’d rather have twenty-four types of jelly instead of six! As it turns out – you’d be wrong about that. Studies show that you won’t be able to decide!

Barry Schwartz wrote a book in 2004 called “The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less” where he demonstrates that too much choice paralyzes people and potentially increases anxiety. It often results in people not making choices, and if they do choose, they make poorer choices.

If some choice is good, but too much is bad, then the real question is “What is the right choice (or range of choices) for me?” A very different question!

So if you are assuming that choice is a good thing in the workplace, you might be right. If you don’t know what choices to offer, you might be really wrong.

If you don’t have a process to identify the right range of choices – you might, as a friend of mine says, “stumble uncontrollably into the truth” and get the right answer, but chances are you probably won’t. If you actually suggested that method to a client or customer, it’s unlikely you’d even get hired!

But that is precisely what you’re doing if you’re a professional advising clients on ‘choice’ and you don’t have a method for understanding what specific choices to offer. You might be following a ‘trend’, but it may be the wrong one for your client. You just won’t know why or how – and at first, neither will your client. So knowing that you’ll be wrong, you can go to your client and say ‘Choice is good, and we have a pretty good idea of which ones to offer, but we don’t know for sure because we don’t have a process for finding out. We think we’ll get it about 75-80% right.’ Is that OK with you? How do you think they’d respond if you did that?

Not sure what they’d say, but if you expected them to pay you, you’d be wrong about that, too.

So, what’s next? First, you have to find or develop a method for contextualizing the choices and determining which ones to include. You also need a process to build a decision-making lens that will allow you to make the best decision among the alternatives. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be in a much better position to make the right choice.

Oh, and if you’re working with someone who has neither – make the right choice and hire someone else.

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