Bush’s 8-year term saw the horrific events of September 11th and the controversial wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed. Many Bush supporters still focus on the positives of his presidency as a justification for his actions, whilst opposing Democrats will argue their candidate, Gore, would have handled the situation better.
We can often ignore opposing evidence in favour of what we believe is correct (see: confirmation bias). Once we’ve made a decision based on the evidence considered, we don’t like looking like we made the wrong one. To help ensure this, we often over-attribute positive features to the options we’ve chosen and negative features to options not chosen, like political candidates. As a result, we feel good about ourselves and our choices, and have less regret for bad decisions. This makes changing incorrect beliefs an incredibly hard task.
Consumers desire for past choices to be rational and well-made (or at least seem to be) makes them more likely to overlook any faults in an effort to convince themselves and others that they made the right decision.
“Monstromart: where shopping is a baffling ordeal” reads the slogan of a fictional supermarket in The Simpsons.
Inside the supermarket, there were whole aisles for one type of product. There were different brands of tomato ketchup as far as the eye could see, bags sugar could be bought in hundreds of varieties, the express checkout had a sign reading: “1,000 items or less”.
In the end, the Simpsons returned to Apu’s Kwik-E-Mart. In doing so, the Simpsons were making a choice to reduce their choice. It wasn’t quite a rational choice, but it made sense. Their unconstrained freedom left them paralysed to make decisions.
There is no denying choice improves the quality of our lives. When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. Choice is essentially freedom, which is fundamental to our well-being. However, like The Simpsons, the choice paradox suggests that offering consumers too much choice can leave them paralysed to make a decision.
I recently watched a competitive swimming heat on television. The race sticks in my mind because 50% of the athletes, four in total, were from the United States. Knowing very little about each participant, nor who the favourite was for the race, at first glance, it looked like the United States had to place in the top three. The result: none of them finished in the top three.
In this case, the size of each category, the country each athlete represented, incorrectly led me to believe they had a better chance of making it into the top three. I incorrectly believed “they had the numbers on their side”.
The category size bias demonstrates how our probability judgments are often inaccurate. Category size can impact the perceived likelihood of a specific outcome, such that an outcome classified into a large (vs small) category is perceived as more likely to occur.
In the mid-1990s, there was a shortage of organic cotton—cotton that Patagonia relied on to make its products. While other companies might source non-organic alternatives in the interim, Chouinard’s’ response was “if we have to be in business using an evil product like traditionally grown cotton, we don’t deserve to be in business”.
The big ‘a-ha’ for Chouinard was that you could do something good for the environment that was also good for your business. Patagonia became California’s first B Corporation in January 2012. At the time, the company was turning over $600m in annual revenues and employed around 2000 people.
Patagonia continues to donate 10% of its profits to small-scale environmental campaigns where $10,000-$15,000 can make a real difference. Their Worn Wear initiative encourages the repair, recycling and resale of garments. The company once took a full-page advert in the New York Times with the tagline: “don’t buy this jacket, unless you really need it”.