January 10, 2008 Tony M.

Turn Right.

On our way back from the beach, we came to this intersection. I was heading north. As you’ll notice on closer inspection, I had four options for going north including the opportunity to go left, straight or turn right. Fortunately for me, the navigation system did the work for me. I wasn’t looking for options. I just wanted someone to tell me to turn right.

A few years ago, a professor from Columbia University completed a series of studies that resulted in an article “When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?” In one experiment, they set up a tasting booth at a grocery store. They offered 24 different exotic flavors of jams for people to taste in one instance. In a separate instance, they only offered 6 varieties. Customers who stopped by the booth received a coupon for a dollar off the purchase of a jar. In this experiment:

  • More people stopped at the booth that offered more choices; however, folks tasted the same number of jams in both locations.
  • More importantly, 30% of the people with a choice of 6 jams actually purchased a jar. Only 3% of the people with a choice of 24 jams made a purchase. Fewer choices generated more purchases.

Barry Schwartz wrote in his book The Paradox of Choice:

When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy, control, and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates.

Now, take a look around your ministry. How many choices do people have for participating in a service, event, class, program, etc.? How many options do people have for selecting a ministry? Our instinct tells us if we offer more options, more people will respond and take a step in their spiritual journey. In reality, we may be making life more difficult for people who are looking for a clear path for where they should go next. It may be time to eliminate all the options for going north and just encourage people to turn right.

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