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Decisions Decisions Decisions

Update: 2017-03-1012
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Whether you're choosing spaghetti sauce or a life partner, making decisions can be paralyzing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we make the choices we make, and how we learn to live with them.

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support for Ted Radio Hour and the following message come from Wells Fargo imagine what you can do with the right business credit visit Wells Fargo works for information on how to achieve financial success for your business learn more at Wells Fargo works dot com slash credit member FDIC equal Housing lender this the is the Head Radio Hour each week groundbreaking Ted Talk The Ted Technology Design at Stanford delivered and Ted conferences around the world gift of the human had to believe in impossible the true nature of reality beckons just beyond those talks those ideas adapted for radio NPR guy rise and on the show to day decisions the ideas about make them and why we tend to agonize over them the because at some point we all have to make a decision about something he can be as trivial as picking a restaurant will I avoid yell for this varies I've never known look at the young this is Malcolm Gladwell by the way high Malcolm Gladwell is the you know he is writer podcast host a hater I know about others talk about it yes this happens to me I've never opened don't do it and to Malcolm this feels like a kind of freedom he doesn't have to scroll through hundreds and hundreds of options on where the dinner because the truth is there's such a thing as too much choice so okay cept can't catch a question about our mascots yes yes James Howard Zinn who as how most was the second physicist those sacrifices are people who are in the business of measuring things and he might be the greatest character I ever hung out with how he was short and round and in the best possible way exuberant Lee Jewish the show full of Yiddish isms and curiosity I mean because one of the things that I when I wrote about him he's responsible for kind of uncovering truth about Hal human beings make decisions how much will it uncover the truth while working on something kind of unexpected Malcolm Gladwell takes up the story from the Ted stage the Howard graduated with his doctor from Harvard and set up a little consulting shop in White Plains New York and one of his first clients was Mrs. many years ago back in the early seventies when his first clients was Pepsi and Pepsi came to Howard and they said you know we this new thing called aspartame and would like to make Diet Pepsi we'd like you to figure out how much aspartame we should put in each can of Diet Pepsi in order to have the perfect trick that sounds like an incredibly straightforward question to answer and that's what Howard Todd because he told them Look we're working with the band between eight and twelve percent anything below eight percent sweetness is not sweet enough anything above twelve percent sweetness is too sweet we want to know what's the sweet spot between eight and twelve now if I gave it his problem to do us all safe a simple what we do to make up a big experimental batch of Pepsi every degree of sweetness eight percent a point won a point to a point three Ali up to twelve weeks try this out with thousands of people and we plot the results on a curve and we take the most popular concentration right Lisa Howard does experiment to get to date about the plots on a curve ball said he realizes it's not a nice bell curve effect does make any sense it's a mess all over the the the what how discovers when he does that work for them is to people's answers do not coalesce around a single solution here are some people who like their diet Pepsi really sweet and some who don't like it sweet at all the and the part of some kind of continuum they are completely different places in the world of colors a new world of sweetness the city he says look we've been operating under a paradigm which says there is a perfect diet Pepsi he says it's wrong there are only perfect diet Pepsi has Pepsi didn't buy this idea that there could be more than one perfect product and neither did anyone else in the food industry but that didn't stop our Moscow it's from talking about it for years the He was obsessed with it and finally a breakthrough Campbell soup Campbell's my prego prego in the early eighties was struggling next a ride which was the dominant spaghetti sauce of the seventies and eighties so they came to Howard and said fix this and how I looked at their product line he said but you have is a dead tomatoes society so he said this is what I want to do we got together with the Campbell Soup Kitchen any made forty five varieties of spaghetti sauce and a varied them according to every conceivable way that you can vary tomatoes us by sweetness by level of garlic light tartness by sour despite emailing us by visible solids my favorite term ends in the business every conceivable way you can vary spaghetti sauce he varied spaghetti sauce and sure enough if you sit down and you analyze these all this data in spaghetti sauce you realize that all Americans fall into one of three groups of people who like the spaghetti sauce plain there are people who like the spaghetti sauce spicy and there are people who like it extra chunky and of those three facts the third one was the most significant because at the time in the early nineteen eighties he went to supermarket you would not find extra chunky spaghetti sauce prego turn to Howard may set you telling me that one third of Americans crave extra chunky spaghetti sauce and yet no one is servicing their needs and he said yes the prego then went back and completely refunded their spaghetti sauce and came out with a lot of extra chunky that immediately and completely took over the spaghetti sauce business in this country and over the next ten years they made six hundred million dollars off their line of extra chunky sauce the the the I mean the idea behind having many pasta sauces or on many different kinds of ABC's was the idea behind that that if you gave people choices it to be happier I don't know I'm not sure that even hard to go that far I think what he would say is that for too long people in positions of authority in places like the food industry assumed it was their job to define what pasta sauce was or what color was and to educate the rest of us to the point where we agree with them what harm are saying is that's wrong that's backwards if you want to discover what pasta sauces you have to listen to the people who are using pasta sauce and let their own particular idiocy because he's be your guide that's a separate question from the question of whether multiple choices make you happier I think what he was perhaps thinking of is that you enter the supermarket knowing that you are someone who like spicy pasta sauce and now the spicy pasta sauce for you and you almost kind of ignore all the other choices all I've done is I've done a much better job of delivering to you something that conforms with your own taste people don't know what they want right how would love to say the mind knows not what the town wants it's a mystery and pour in the critically important step in understanding our own desires and tastes is to realize that we cannot always explain what we want deep down if i aso you for example newsroom what you want a coffee you it's a everyone of you would say I wanted dark rich hearty roast people all the sewing us in the one we like the Charlie Rose what percentage of you actually like a dark rich hearty roasts Howard sum of between twenty five and twenty seven percent most of you like Milky week off the You will never ever say to someone who asks you what she wanted I won a Milky we got the the the bottom most people one Milky week I cannot know that but wouldn't you agree that like your own world is your own person like this is so much better today because you can pick among different kinds of coffee xray I feel that way right I do but I swear I think the psychologists who study choice are really write is when they move beyond some of these more prosaic consumer choices into things like dating so where now you have dating marketplace is in urban centers that aren't what choice is essentially infinite and I think that is a problem there is a case where I do not think increase choices bring happiness I think it's just creating an endless treadmill of choice but I still think it's as simple as it's always better to have less choice but I think we have this assumption that that a choice has consequences right like it like remember those choose Your Adventure books of you if you chose you know to go to page nine you might die off a cliff but if you went to page twelve you would you go to Candy Land I mean the choices we have a choices they have consequences but not predictable consequence that's my point yes it can because you can't know beforehand to stop worrying about it kept I mean easy for you to say write do you know no reason for all of us to say the very use of flip the switch in your head it doesn't matter so are you telling me you are always the person picks the right line at the supermarket know if I do worry about it I dislike get into a line stop worrying about it and you know daydream happily while you wait what if you get a line right you get into line and you look at the last person in the line that you didn't choose and then you see like four people get behind that person and then they end up checking out before you even get to the register doesn't that drive you crazy I cannot help you I can have you too far gone for me we occupy different universes you know I think that I reflect the sensibility of most people like choices this is making is actually hard right ever agonize over decision making at all and not those kinds of decisions so I'm astonished by the way that Americans agonize about their college decisions and the reason I find it so preposterous is that there is an assumption that the thing that makes an education good or bad is noble beforehand I would've thought that the ingredients of a good education are largely unknowable the most important thing about my education researcher Ana was the fact that I met a guy named Tom Connell and I hung out with Tom fantastic compositions with Tom and immersion University a vastly wiser and more interesting person the is not in a million years I would I I how I have known with the Tom is going to be there is also funny because most universities the question of what you get a good education is up to you up to the university the that so I think a lot of these choice wages based on this preposterous notion of the consumer as a passive recipient of prepackaged experiences and most of life is the pre packaged the well except for spaghetti sauce and even that's not always an easy decision I haven't counted recently but what I think Oh it into a grocery store and discovered thirty six different varieties within one brand so if you had to this is a factor if you have to bake who would you go for smooth pasta sauce or as STR extra chunky or spicy wet discovered is actually much more important but how you do the pasta to the pasta sauce so we do like elbow and rig a Tony in ziti and linguine cook it yeah no worries aside which when you make II Does it matter I mean a seam of the heap is similar to me that's Malcolm Gladwell you can hear all of his talks at Ted dot com By the way check out his awesome podcast is called revisionist history on the show today ID is about decisions the easy ones am the agonizing ones and Guy rise near listening to the Ted Radio Hour from NPR the R O Hey Everyone Just a quick thanks to two of our sponsors who helped make this podcast possible first two nd Lassie and today nearly anything is possible if we can dream it seems can build it so how do you bring everyone together to realize their shared vision with that last year makers of software for teams here a confluence big bucket and try lo give your team everything you need to organize discuss and complete shared work of Lassie and works to help teens large and small sand to new heights to create what's next visit at last in that calm glassy and team up thanks also to stamps dot com You stamp set Compton automatically calculate can print the correct amount of postage for every letter or package you sent eleven all the services of the U S Postal Service right major fingertips I imprint the official US postage for any letter or package using your own computer lab for stamps dot com for a special offer of four week trial plus postage and a digital scale stance the com click on the microphone enter NPR and stamped the cob ever go to the post office again the thing all this month we are asking our listeners to tell other people about podcasts especially podcast that you love or podcast you think they might love so if you know somebody who doesn't listen to podcasts or might listen to podcast but doesn't listen to the one you like tell them about it even better show them how to download a podcast and then tell us what you've been recommending use the hash tag tripod that's T R Y P O D and thanks the it's the Ted Radio Hour from NPR and Guy rise and show today idea is about decisions we make them why they can be so hard and had lots of choices don't necessarily help like like when you're standing in the grocery aisle paralyzed by the prospect of choosing from thirty six varieties of spaghetti sus we should try to minimize the number of times were paralyzed over what ought to be mundane choices it this issue and I and our luck in the end of the day mistakes on this are really very eyes and just use Sheen as a professor at Columbia Business School I study wide choice matters to people and how they can get the most from this thing called choice to it but she says we can get paralyzed by things like spaghetti stuff she still admits that it happens all the time she even has a term for it the choice overload problem the choice overload problem she explained that idea from the Ted stage the dragon student at Stanford University it is very very upscale grocery store was in store called Rangers had two hundred and fifty different kinds of mustard and vinegar is in over five hundred different kinds of fruits and vegetables and more than two dozen different kinds of bottled water I love going to the store but on one occasion I ask myself to never buy anything I decided to do a little experiment and we picked a jam for our experiment they had three hundred and forty eight different kinds of jam we said a little tasting bits right near the entrance of the store we are put out six different flavors of jam or twenty four different flavors of jam I will get to Thanks first in which case the people more likely tell you now stop samples of the more people stop and there were twenty four about sixty percent then when there were six about forty percent next thing we look that is in which case the people more likely to buy a jar of jam the opposite effect of the people who stop whenever twenty four only three percent of them actually bought a jar of jam and the people who stop when there were six when our lease on the thirty percent of them actually bought a jar of jam as he did the math people were at least six times more likely to buy a jar of jam if they encountered six then if they encountered twenty four Now the main reason for this is because well we might enjoy gazing at those giant walls of mayonnaise mustard vinegar is jams that we can actually do the math of comparing and contrasting actually came from that stunning display the E it was this study that made her think maybe we can too far maybe companies are overloading consumers with choice which is why she has based companies today is to cut you heard it said before but it's never been more true than today that less is more when Proctor and gamble went from twenty six different kinds of head and shoulders to fifteen a sign increase in sales by ten percent when the Golden Cat Corporation got rid of their ten worst selling cat litter products they saw an increase in profits by eighty seven percent the average grocery store today operas you forty five thousand products but the ninth biggest retailer in the world today is all these and it offers you only fourteen hundred products one line of canned tomato sauce the The Well that's totally counterintuitive but many companies are actually seeing an increase in sales when when they reduce the number of choices yes just looks less overwhelming I can now see that OK this is the head and shoulder I want and when Cass Co recently reduced the number of choices they actually saw an increase in sales really been back things they offer just cut across the board yet even Walmart is beginning to cut costs to what is it about choice that overwhelms us that they can paralyze us with a few things that happen when we get paralyzed by choice sometimes when you're trying to choose a month really minor things like let's say Here's looking at him restaurant and he starts deliberating over at the state faces the salmon versus the salad and you start contemplating all different kinds of criteria by which you want to compare and contrast are options but I think in the times when we get paralyzed is because it really is something that we are very is very very consequential should I get married or not actually have a child or not there's lot of unknowns their house than both of those areas produce agony because there is this thing called heart versus mind Orton got versus reason everyone a label it even though they're both working in concert and the reality you're constantly asking yourself two questions What do I want and what should I choose and those hokey the same answers because when you ask yourself What should I choose it tells you what you ought to want tomorrow or the day after tomorrow when you ask yourself what you want we're very aware of the fact that what I be what I want in five minutes so that's what it's about it's about what I want and what they should want that's the inherent conflict to all of us feel this conflict in a way comes to say choosing jammer choosing an entree like is this just part of human behavior the desire for personal control and competency is in name but everything else about choice has learned how and a lot of what your culture teaches you his head to think about your life and whether to proceed things in terms of choice or in terms of something else right in to the extent that the UCA choice is how you frame your life that's not a given we as Americans think that choice is a quote objective thing it's not it's a very subjective thing and because choice is a learned shiney and are says choice can work differently in different cultures and she got a glimpse of that early on in her career when she was doing some research in Japan the first day I went to a restaurant and ordered a cup of green tea which are after a pas leader said the issue here in green tea aisle I said I am aware of this custom to me like my tea sweet the In response the game even more courteous version of the same explanation one does her blood sugar in green tea the end I said that the Japanese do not put sugar in their green tea like the dreams the insistence the later took up the issue with the matter pretty soon discussion ensued and finally the manager came over and said I am very sorry we do not have sugar the well since I couldn't have ninety two I ordered a cup of coffee which the waiter brought over promptly resting on the saucer with two packets of sugar the failure to procure myself a cup of sweet green tea was not due to a simple misunderstanding this was due to a fundamental difference in our A D is about choice the American way to cold burger King is to have it your way because a Starbucks says Happiness is in your choices the Japanese perspective it's their duty to protect those who don't know any better the the hearing gave Jin for making the choice Americans tend to believe that they've reached some sort of particle in the way they practice choice they think the choice is seen through the American lands best fulfills a need in universal desire for choice in our hands the the the soap so why is choice seems like this this great American virtue well you could argue that the unique history of this country made us more likely to have it any other country and that is because in seventeen seventy six our forefathers began to think about what a political democratic institution might look like but at the same time you have Adam Smith and capitalism in the eighty of the independent individual consumer or shortly thereafter you have Ralph Waldo Emerson get is of self reliance is in it must be a correlation between an emphasis on choice and a culture that elevates the the individual over the collective there is so certainly in cultures that are more collective aesthetic they tend to value more social conformity more of a sense of duty and responsibility and say you'll ask yourself what are my responsibilities and what would other people expect of me whereas cultures that value more independent or individual is in value more self reliance personal preference matching what's good for me what to write that for me what is it that I really care about Woodland WA that being said individual is in is and that that that's probably one of our biggest exports around the globe the question is does everyone want that export does everyone want lots of choices she had decided to go to Eastern Europe to find out here I interviewed people who are residents of formerly communist countries we all face the challenge of transitioning to a more democratic and capitalistic society for Eastern Europeans the availability these consumer products in the marketplace wasn't very huge asked what words in images do you associate with choice graders from Warsaw said ah for me it is fear there are some dilemmas I am use to no choice voting from Kiev said in response to how we felt about the new consumer marketplace is too much the everything that is there and come last a young Polish man said the twenty kinds of chewing gum I don't mean to say that I want no choice the choices are quite artificial Mariel of choice the pain from our to perceive differences between the actions when there are too many choices to compare and contrast instead of making better choices we become overwhelmed by choice sometimes even afraid of the Americans have so often tried to disseminate their ideas of choice believing that they will be or ought to be welcomed with open hearts and minds the history books in the Daily News tells it doesn't always work out that way Americans themselves are discovering that choice seems more attractive in theory than in practice no matter where we're from we all have a responsibility to open ourselves up to a wider of like choice can do and what it can represent it teaches us weighing how the brings us that much closer to inspiring the hell and achieving the freedom that choice promises that doesn't always deliver if we learn to speak to one another and we can begin to see choice in all its strangeness complexity and compelling beauty thank you shiney and teaches at Columbia Business School you can see Oliver talks had that calm you ever been to a TGI Fridays we talk about paralysis I actually have not been defeated yet I am the shake Shack for all and am a big In N Out Burger all and I guess that is because the daily is just one choice if you would have it you would have a nervous breakdown at TGIF right now I'd probably just ask the waiter waitress to get in and be happy with that the the hard time making choices Owens like pretty easy for you to do that I cannot make a decision to save my life know how really you're the decision choice per se I'm a terrible disease that leaves no hope for the rest of us yes this is Ruth Chang she's a professor of philosophy at Rutgers University and she studies hard choices so what I should say is I use to be a terrible decision to OK but that's how I got interested and thinking about hard choices you can help me make a decision about something sure the can tell you exactly what it is I just need to know what to do so I believe that there are five steps to confronting a difficult decision K join here are five steps yeah okay the first thing you have to do when you're confronting a hard choice is to figure out what matters in the choice between the alternatives like writing down right in town and will be a mish mash okay then you lather rinse and repeat you go back and you think well Gee did I miss something that matters in the choice yeah then you recognize that you're in a hard choice there is no best answer the the the next step commit to one of the options create a reason for herself to pursue that option ok so us with five so five is not really step it's more a consequence when you commit to something you create your own identity you make yourself into who you are those of the five steps okay and Mitt a five step plan my family to the simple especially when you have to make a big choice chain says it doesn't actually
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