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“It’s a poor craftsman that blames his tools”

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The Paradox of Choice
Barry Schwartz
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 4 minuuttia.

“A poor craftsman blames his tools” is an old idiom that is still widely used today. But wait, why can’t I blame my tools? If I’d had better ones, I surely would’ve done a better job! Well, for starters, picking the tools is part of your job, and should be one of the most important ones at that. Investing in the equipment you’ll use in your job is one of the first steps of starting a business, and also one of the steps that a lot of mistakes get made in. In this essay I will go through some issues that we might face when we make these purchases, or when we buy anything else, in an attempt to help you understand yourself and the market when obtaining tools for your business.

The Paradox of Choice

According to some sources, adults make approximately 35,000 decisions each day, and while many of these are unconscious, the number speaks volumes about how saturated with options our lives have become. In his book “The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less”, Barry Schwartz attempts to explain the effects of decision making in our everyday lives. In it, the main thesis is that the more choices we have, the unhappier we ultimately are with the decision we make. Why is that?

A belief that is deeply rooted in western culture is, that the welfare of people is dependent on our freedom. Because people have freedom, they are free to make whichever decisions they want, without anyone restricting their freedom to do that. The way to maximise freedom, is to maximise choice. The more choices people have, the more freedom they have, and the more freedom they have, the better their welfare. Schwartz calls this “the official Dogma”, and also lets us know why this is not desirable.

While most people read that, nodding along and agreeing, there is a severe downside to the abundance of choices that this kind of system leads to. As we make a choice, say from a hundred different products or services, it’s extremely easy to imagine that it is not the best one, and that we could’ve made a better choice, and are now more or less stuck with the thing we bought. The thing we bought also now sets the standard for what “the best you can have” is. Even if we had had the chance to try each of the one hundred products, and could’ve picked the best out of the bunch, it still might’ve been a disappointment, as we would then believe that product to be “as good as it gets”, and it still might not be up to our standards. Schwartz calls this the escalation of expectation.

This paradox of choice, however, is not talked about too often, and our free market consists of hundreds upon hundreds of options, with more being developed every day. So, as you wander the jungle of choice, and think about your options, don’t get overwhelmed. The products that you choose are all probably at the very least usable, and the “industry standard” tools (that you probably should be aiming to acquire) are all very much alike, as the weaker ones would’ve been dropped out of the competition. That’s just how our free market works. The only things that should matter to you, are personal preferences, such as the fit of a pair of jeans, or the operating system of a phone.

Shiny syndrome

Another obstacle disguised as a requirement is sometimes referred to as “Shiny syndrome”. As we live in a world if perpetual iterations and new, improved releases, there never seems to be a feeling of being “all set”, so to say. Or maybe it will stay there for a while when you get that monthly license for software updates, and the newest hardware.

A thing that we must stop to think of, however, is how being the one with the best equipment will help us be truly better in our field. Especially when we’re starting a business, we probably won’t have the resources to get ourselves, let alone all our employees the most expensive machinery. While one could also take this to the polar opposite and say: “let them paint with toothbrushes first, when they can do that, they can paint with anything”, that would be too much of a hyperbole. The question one must ask themselves when checking if they really need that shiny new piece of gear is this: Does my current toolset still meet all of my core criteria and allow me to do my best work unhindered? If the answer is yes, maybe think twice about what it is you really need.

Just keep doing what you set out to do!

One of the worst things that wallowing in these decisions will do is take the focus out of your work. Chances are, you didn’t start drawing because you’ve always liked cool pencils and wanted nothing more than to wonder endlessly which of them might be the best. No, you started it because you like drawing. While you keep doing it, you’ll burn through a dozen pencils, and also make the wrong choice of buying a bad one every once in a while. You shouldn’t let this keep you from making a decision, though, as you can always try a different one if that happens. The faster you fail, the faster you learn, just as long as you keep your focus on your work instead of the hundred possible different tools you could do it with, you’ll be golden.

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