Pants. I put them on every weekday

Any writer can tell you about how paralyzing a blank page can be. That’s why I’ve found procedural generative devices to be so helpful in my own creative process. Given a set of constraints, one is no longer confronted with the infinite branching possibilities inherent from an undefined starting point. One is free to choose without the tyranny of infinite choices.

As it turns out, people like choosing, not choices. Some combination of real estate decisions and hubris led to me commuting 3 hours/day for 4 months this year while we renovated a home. I listened to a lot of podcasts, including Freakonomics Ep 359, in which they investigate how Trader Joe’s became so successful selling few options and interview Sheena Iyengar, a researcher in the psychology of choice.

As it turns out, having choice or the illusion of choice is associated with high satisfaction, but beyond a fairly limited threshold of complexity, additional choices result in people seizing up and staring out the window. In her jelly experiment, she set up a stand with free samples of jellies and coupons, 24 jellies on some days, 6 on others. The coupons taken from the more limited selection converted to purchases at a rate 10x of the larger selection.

To test this out, go try to find the “best” pen or towel on Amazon. It’s easy to burn an hour not making a decision. Then go try to make the same decision at a dollar store. 

As makers of things, we should be conscious of not overloading customers with too many choices as much as any other cognitive overload. But we should also be aware that the same phenomenon cuts both ways and use exercises and processes to break loose from creative freeze.

By Matthew Jewell