Choice is a commodity. Choice is a finite resource.
When you go to a restaurant, most menus are built to limit your choices. The highlighted menu items or the ones your eyes naturally beam to first (people rarely start from item #1) are the most profitable items. Your choices, unbeknownst to you, are limited. The restaurant tries to tell you what to eat without being explicit about it. This is why a good server will point to the specials and most profitable (not necessarily most expensive) menu items when prompted by the diner for recommendations.
People tire of long menus. Most of your favorite restaurants do not have extensive menus. Good restaurants know this and break it down for you to battle your decision fatigue; if done properly, it works to their benefit.
Referencing Steve Jobs in the tech world, I know, has been exhausted to the point of cliche. But I’m going to do it anyway. Steve Jobs was the master of deciding for the general public. Everyone knows that one of his guiding philosophies was to tell people what they want rather than opening up and listening to focus groups. One of the effects of this was limiting choices for people. He decided floppy disks were obsolete while people still depended on them. The first iMacs released upon his return to Apple lacked an A: Drive. I remember scoffing when the Macbook Air was first released because it came without a CD Drive. I can’t remember the last time I watched a DVD on a computer (thanks Netflix).
If you missed it, there was a popular profile by Michael Lewis on Vanity Fair of Barack Obama floating around last year. A tidbit that prompted more articles to be written about this profile was President Obama’s explanation of why he only wears two colors. By doing so, he doesn’t have to think. He can just wear anything without taking the time to think what matches and what doesn’t. His reasoning, “I’m trying to pare down my decisions.”
This concept that we have really a more limited reservoir of our own choices than we’d like to admit is applicable in our daily lives. For example prioritizing your schedule would really allow you to be efficient in your work. What should be first of day? What can be saved for the end (that is, what can you do that requires the least amount of critical thinking and decision-making)?
In terms of business development, when you’re trying to set up a meeting, throw out a day. Be explicit. Maybe even include a time. Or, more specifically, a time frame (15 minutes? Half hour?). This focuses in a specific time slot that the recipient can just check their calendar and see whether that slot is open. Rather than saying next week and having them scour through their busy schedule, do the work for them. It’s not a major difference but I have seen a slightly better response when doing this.
When thinking product, especially the MVP, tell the user what they want. Limit the options. Keep it simple and let the user decide what’s good and what’s not. Iterate from there because you can also narrow down what works and what doesn’t once you get data from what features the users are using the most.
We are finite. Acknowledging this truth and acting upon it allows us to make wiser decisions both personally and professionally.