The Pessimist’s Dilemma

Wed, Dec 12, 2007

Simplicity Rules

This post is part of a series about The Paradox of Choice, a book about why more is less. Leave a comment below and I may randomly pick you to win one of three autographed copies. Read more of this series.

Most choices have trade-offs. Rarely is one option better in every way than another. How you think about what you pick can greatly effect the outcome.

The book has an example of a custody battle. The jury has a list of qualities of two parents, relating to income, health, and relationship with the child.

Parent A Parent B
Average income Above-average income
Average health Minor health problems
Average working hours Lots of work-related travel
Reasonable rapport with child Very close relationship with the child
Relatively stable social life Extremely active social life

It’s pretty much a draw, but it turns out who gets chosen varies significantly based on how the question is asked.

Question 1: To which parent would you award sole custody of the child?
Answer 1: 64% choose Parent B.

Question 2: Which parent would you deny sole custody of the child?
Answer 2: only 55% choose Parent B.

Says Schwartz:

Difficult choices like this set people off on a chase for reasons to justify their decisions. In the first instance, they are looking for a reason to accept a parent. In the second instance, people are looking for reasons to reject a parent.

When we are looking for the good, it’s easy to spot. Of course, it can be easy to see the negatives, too. But then, if the pessimist is to rule out an option because of the negatives, he must also rule out its positives.

That’s what I call the pessimist’s dilemma. That’s when you realize the opportunities you’re passing up, and so starts the maximizing.

For yourself, your customers, and for simplicity’s sake, avoid the pessimist’s dilemma. I say keep things positive.

1 Comments For This Post

  1. jaered Says:

    From those columns I’d say that Parent B is the clear winner. s/he has the closest relationship with the child, despite busy work schedules and traveling. If s/he was able to keep a good relationship and still do those things before, then it should be possible with a little tweaking after the divorce…besides, robot parent replacements aren’t too far off.

2 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Simplicity Rules » Positively Green Says:

    […] Seth has a great example of the Pessimists Dilemma: “I’m more and more convinced that the best hope for the eco movement is to tell a story of efficiency and growth and ingenuity. More is easy to sell. Less almost never is.” […]

  2. Simplicity Rules » Choice at the hardware store Says:

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