Exploring the Paradox of Choice

09-January-2018 17:11
in Small Business Strategy
by Admin

The modern small business owner is faced with a bewildering array of alternative means to achieve their goals.  In part at least, this is the fruit of innovation and of the efforts of the various suppliers of relevant products and services to differentiate themselves from their competitors.  We seem to invariably accept the proliferation of options as a good and a positive thing.  The more the merrier, right? As Professor Barry Schwartz, the author of "The Paradox of Choice" says:

"It is not clear that more choice gives you more freedom.  It could decrease our freedom if we spend too much time trying to make choices". 

In many industries, the noise and clutter facing customers are such that making a decision in which they feel confident is almost impossible.  Transferring this insight into the world in which we move, we can readily see the choices facing a small business owner when assessing, for example, the best marketing tactics to use to communicate with their target market(s) are mind-boggling.  I was recently speaking to a client complaining of what he saw as "marketing overload".  Over the course of the last twenty years in business, he had seen the traditional marketing communications mix of TV, radio, outdoor and print be joined by sponsorship, point of sale, promotion and public relations.  If that wasn't bad enough, today we have experiential marketing, rewards, and incentives, digital communications, website content, search marketing, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, FourSquare. LinkedIn and that is literally just scratching the surface in terms of the options out there.  His question was, how could he know what the optimal marketing communications mix was for his business?  His view was that the choice was so great, testing was almost useless as a means to get to achieve an optimal strategy marketing mix as it would probably take another twenty years to meaningfully test all of the alternatives that are out there.    

It seems clear to me from this and numerous other experiences that small business owners need help in making the right strategic choices.  I am strongly of the view that this process of strategic choice is made much more difficult because the business owner has never adequately thought through many of the core business issues and are thus poorly prepared to make important decisions in the planning process.  In the context of planning for the long term performance of your small business, the best strategic choices are characterised by the following four attributes: Authenticity, Believability, Communicability and Deliverability.


A business organisation must understand its own identity and consciously choose who it exists to serve in some beneficial way.  If the business is clear about what benefits it will provide and which customers it will provide them to, as well as which customers it will not provide them to, then choices between competing alternatives become much easier to make.  It simply becomes of matter of holding the alternatives up to scrutiny and asking "is that going to help us provide greater benefits to our chosen customers".  Authentic strategic choices will help you establish the basis of your competitive advantage with your customers.  Choosing to do what everyone else is doing is not authentic.  Companies that are clear in their vision of who they are and why they exist will not simply mimic the popular strategies within their industry.  These strategies will be an expression and amplification of who they are and their mission.  They will be authentic choices.


True strategic choice is not imposed by political will but flows naturally from the strategic planning process.  It cannot be based purely on "gut hunches" or intuition but must be verified and shown to be objectively valid.  Many companies fail to understand that unless their strategic choices are believable to those responsible for their implementation, commitment to the strategy is likely to be weak.  The process of examining the alternatives must be conducted in an open and rigorous fashion.  The process of strategic planning must win over the hearts and minds of those responsible for its implementation.  As the saying goes, "A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still".  The strategic planning process ought to lead to strong support for the eventual strategic choice and this will only happen if the choices are believable.


Even if a strategic choice is authentic and believable unless it can be effectively communicated is will be almost useless.  This is not just about whether it can be expressed appropriately but also about whether or not the strategic choice is compelling.  If the choice cannot engage and generate enthusiasm from members of the team remote from the strategic planning process, then it simply will not succeed,  Those people affected by but not involved in the strategic choice will weigh up the logical sense of the decision against their experience and may be rejected if there is inherent weakness in the communicability of the idea.  In addition to the factual content of the idea, the planning team needs to also communicate their commitment to a path that is different from a past strategy.  Without an understanding throughout the business that they are willing to do whatever it takes to help the organisation through to a new position based upon the strategic choice made, any change will fail to take hold.


 Ultimately, a strategic choice is not truly a choice unless it can be executed.  Strategic choices that have been put forward for evaluation within the planning process must be capable of being broken down into a series of small, actionable steps with clearly stated deliverables.  These authentic, believable and communicable strategic choices must also be able to be carried out in the real world.  Can it be allocated a clear budget and a clear project plan for implementation?  Can this plan be adequately resourced?  Have the associated risks been properly evaluated and managed?

This ABCD approach to strategic choice should help you choose the best thing to do from amongst the many things you could do as an organisation.  The choices can seem bewildering but with a firm grasp of who you are and a keen sense of mission, as well as an understanding of a few basic business principles, there is a way through the confusion.  If you are struggling with strategic choice, feel free to contact us today.