The art of choosing
Have you heard about the jam experiment? At a luxury food store in the USA researchers set up a table offering samples of jam. At times, there were 6 different flavors to choose from. At other times there were 24 flavors. Shoppers were more likely to stop by the table with many flavors. But they were 10 times more inclined to buy from the table with few flavors. The scores: 3% versus 30% buyers (few flavors).
Professor Sheena Iyengar (1969) is considered one of the world’s experts on choice and was the psychologist responsible for the jam experiment. Iyengar, daughter of Indian immigrants living in the USA, continued to explore the paradoxes of choice and has written a new book* on the subject. For every business women operating in global business, Sheena’s cross cultural comparisons are important to know, and her book, a ‘must have’.
Can a habit be a choice? Iyengar wondered. She asked American and Japanese students to list the choices they made during the day. The Americans defined brushing their teeth as a choice; the Japanese didn’t. Iyengar did another experiment with American children and children with Japanese and Chinese roots. She introduced anagrams and various color markers with different instructions. The Western kids solved most puzzles when they could pick their own color marker. The Asian children did best when they thought they were following their mothers’ wishes.
Choice has everything to do with identity, Iyengar states. Americans and Asians make different choices and decisions and this has everything to do with how they consciously (or unconsciously) define their identity.
What choices – good or bad – have you made in your business? What role did your culture play in making those choices?
*The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar, the inaugural S.T. Lee Professor of Business in the Management Division at Columbia Business School and the Research Director at the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business.
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