Paralyzed by Choice: When Your Organization’s Options Debilitate Rather Than Liberate

In their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath provide research that suggests the more choices a person has, the more paralyzed they are in making a decision…and thus, defaulting to the very situation or behavior they are trying to change.

For example, a gourmet food store set up a display of 6 different jams. On another day, the same store displayed 24 jams. Although the 24-jam display attracted more customers, shoppers who saw only 6 jams on display were 10 times more likely to actually make a purchase. A similar situation occurred with employees in a large company when they were presented 401(k) investing options. Interestingly, for every 10 options offered to employees, the rate of participation in a 401(k) plan decreased by 2 percent. And in a speed-dating situation, young adults who met 8 singles actually made more matches than young adults who met 20 singles.

In the words of Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, “we become overloaded. Choice no longer liberates, it debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.” Simply put: people need choices…but not too many. So what does this mean for your church or organization? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are we trying to get people involved in too many programs?
  • Are we giving new comers or new customers too many “next steps”?
  • Are we overwhelming people with multiple options when it comes to getting connected?

Options are good. But when options paralyze, people simply don’t get involved…or worse, they go elsewhere. How simple are your systems? How many options are available to people at various stages in their journey with your church or organization? Keep it simple.

Question: Do the choices you offer the people in your church or organization liberate or debilitate? What needs to change?