Overwhelming Choices

A good friend who is also Dean of School of Business at Henderson State University recommended I read Sheena Iyengar’s fascinating book, The Art of Choosing. In the book, Dr. Iyengar, S.T. Lee Professor in the Management Division of Columbia University’s Business School explores how choosing and choice function both in our lives and various cultures both domestically and globally.

Not surprising, her research casts compelling light on our advisory work and the choices we offer clients. No previous generation has the passel tools and services we can offer. Be it in the disciplines of finance, accounting, insurance, or law—and multiple subgroups in each—the advisor can access resources with potential wide-ranging benefits. Add to that our egos telling us that “more is better,” we face a perfect storm that makes us feel smart but immobilizes those we serve.

Choosing appropriate options can be daunting. As Iyengar argues, our advisory ability to distinguish with clients the differences available to them is where we may serve them best. And there is the rub. In her Ted Talk®, she observed, “Choice no longer offers opportunities, but imposes constraints. It’s not a marker of liberation but of suffocation by meaningless minutiae.”

Here is the caution we must heed. How might we better function if, with our clients, we re-thought both the process of making choices and the benefits that could flow to advisor and client alike? Where do we begin?

First: Do your homework. Start by narrowing choices in every aspect of your business. Invest time in determining what approach or service aligns your values and core convictions with those few options that, in your judgment, work best. In conversation, acknowledge you have reflected on the client’s situation offering the best choice. “In our experience, this approach meets your needs better than others.” We rarely show clients two or three options and let them choose. Doing so conveys leadership that defines a process but advocates for a preferred choice.

Second: Go through the same procedure with other dimensions of your practice.  Streamline processes, evaluate pros and cons, review positive outcomes in previous cases and, based on what you know about the unique situation staring you in the face, offer your best counsel. Choose process and practice experience as more trusted than the product you offer.

Third: Find ways to inject into client conversations the wealth of choices they have while highlighting your value. Focus on continually learning more about your clients and where an important choice may face them in the near future. By valuing the few rather than many your clients will appreciate anew why they work with you.

And yes, read The Art of Choosing, adding to your professional competence a reasoned, compelling rationale for navigating the ever-growing choices vying for attention in our already overcrowded lives.

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Comments 2

  1. Tim, I just read a book called What About Free Will that also talked about how we make choices. It was more geared toward moral choices than everyday choices, but the interesting thing that the author posited was that we always make decisions according to what we think is in our best interest. After pondering that for awhile I think the author was spot on. In our roles as advisors, managers, husbands, fathers, individuals or whatever we have to determine what is in our or others best interest which takes skill, knowledge, work and empathy.

    It can be quite bewildering at times with the volume of information we have to sort which makes expert advisors more valuable.

  2. Post

    Thanks for sharing this other title. The autonomy of each human being requires that we be choosing beings. How we navigate the plethora of options is the task we take up every moment of every day.

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