Poverty of Choice by Choice
by Rick Brenner
Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions, and how can we tell when we're doing it?
Since it was a longish layover, Terri suggested that they go up to the observation deck, where they could watch the take-offs and landings, and where she knew there were about a dozen wooden rocking chairs. Reluctantly, Kyle agreed.
After only three rocks Kyle felt the urge to thank Terri. "Good idea, Terri. Thank you."
She smiled. They rocked a while.
Kyle spoke. "I wonder how we got here," he said.
"You mean…" Terri left it open.
"You know, shipping it when we knew it was a mess. This trip is so predictable, so unnecessary."
"Yeah. But we really didn't have a choice."
Perhaps. It does happen. Or perhaps they didn't want to have a choice.
Choosing from alternatives that cause discomfort or anxiety can make life complex. Often, we're more comfortable with limited options, even though later we might regret having chosen one of them.
Here are just a few of the reasons why we limit our own choices.
- Difficult choices can cause
discomfort. Sometimes, we'd
rather not have a choice.We're afraid of — or can't discuss — some of the unspoken choices. For instance, even though canceling a troubled project is always a choice, we seldom consider cancellation. See "Workplace Taboos and Change," Point Lookout for February 26, 2003.
- It's my football
- Those controlling the decision process have a favored option, which is already on the table. They don't want to develop more options.
- It's their football
- The options we already have include one that would please those who finally approve our choice. We converge on the one we think they want.
- Fear of success
- We prefer to go with what we know, rather than take risks that might lead to something better. Virginia Satir captured this situation when she said, "People prefer the familiar to the comfortable."
- Trips to Abilene
- We're all so careful to avoid rocking the boat that we end up rowing in a direction nobody wants to go. This is one form of a dynamic called "a trip to Abilene." See "Trips to Abilene," Point Lookout for November 27, 2002.
Noticing that we're avoiding uncomfortable choices can be difficult. Here are some of the phrases we hear when we're limiting our own choices.
- We're forced to
- You leave me no choice
- It's in God's hands now
- They made me do it
- I don't know what else to do; I see no other way
- I had no choice
- I couldn't help it
- It's our only option
- We're out of moves (options)
- We have only one real choice
- We're between a rock and a hard place
- Our hands are tied
- Beggars can't be choosers
- We have to bite the bullet
- There's only one way to do this
- Here's what we have to do
- I'll go along with whatever you decide
- If you say so…you're the expert.
- It doesn't make any difference — we lose either way
- Been there, done that
- We tried that last time
Limiting our own choices is actually a choice in itself. It can be a wise choice only if we're aware we've made it. Top Next Issue
If you notice this happening, what can you do about it? We'll look at that next time.
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Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 4: Bottlenecks: Part I
- Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs? Available here and by RSS on February 4
- And on February 11: Bottlenecks: Part II
- When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern. Available here and by RSS on February 11
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