What do they have?

Sent by Jonathan Stark on August 28th, 2017

This morning I was enjoying one of my favorite breakfasts (veggie omelette, dry wheat toast, gigantic black coffee) at one of my favorite coffee shops (Three Sisters in Providence).

As I was about to leave, a mother walked in with her young daughter and I overheard the following exchange:

Mother: What do you want to eat? Daughter: What do they have?

Why did the daughter ask what they had? Why didn’t she just answer with whatever - in the whole wide world - she wanted for breakfast (i.e., her favorite breakfast)?

We like options

Here’s the thing...

When presented with a virtual infinity of options (e.g., “of everything In the whole wide world, what do you want to eat?”) the human brain locks up. We are much better at choosing a preference from a list of options.

The daughter was asking for a list of options from which to choose. If the mom had asked “Would you rather have oatmeal or pancakes?” the daughter probably would have immediately been able to choose the one that suited her better at that moment.

But not too many options!

That said, offering lots and lots of options is almost as bad as infinite options. When faced with too many options, people experience analysis paralysis, get overwhelmed, and prolong or avoid making a decision.

For example, if the mom had asked “Would you rather have scrambled eggs, fried eggs, plain yogurt, vanilla yogurt, strawberry yogurt, blueberry yogurt, bananas, apples, strawberries, blueberries, a bagel, waffles, oatmeal, granola, toast, hash browns, home fries, french fries, apple turnover, apple danish, croissant, frittata, sausage, or pancakes?” the daughter probably would have been overwhelmed and replied with something like, “Wait... what was before oatmeal?”

The sweet spot

In my experience, the sweet spot is usually three options. This is why I recommend providing three options in your project proposals. It gives the prospect enough things to compare without overwhelming them.

Sometimes it’s hard to come up with three options, so I think it’s okay to offer two. But offering more than three (or worse, only one) is usually a bad idea.

Yours,

—J

P.S. Have I mentioned recently that hourly billing is nuts?


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