The liberating effect of constraints

Much of recent human development has been driven by the quest to create more and more options in all aspects of our lives. 

From the ability to easily travel to any part of the world, to having access to a diverse assortment of food, shops, entertainment, gadgets or education, the world is flatter than ever and we have access to the widest range of everything – certainly more than we have ever known in our history.

Does this abundance of choice make life better?

Probably not.

More choice can prevent us from moving forward and less choice helps us to walk out the door. 

In his book Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz cites numerous studies showing that where there is too much choice it can lead to unhappiness, and can even prevent someone from making a decision. (Schwartz, B, 2003). In a study called “When Choice is Demotivating,” a gourmet food store in an upmarket community typically set up tables with new products that people could sample and buy. Using this environment, researchers set up a line of exotic, high quality jams for customers who, after tasting the samples, could get a one dollar coupon should they decide to buy. Setting up two scenarios, the researchers offered six varieties of jam in the one and 24 varieties in another. In both scenarios the full 24 varieties were available for purchase with the same discount. The 24 varieties attracted more people to the table, although in both the scenario with six and 24 varieties about the same number of people tasted. The real difference however came when measuring who actually bought the jams. Thirty percent of this exposed to the scenario where there were only six jams bought while only 3 percent of those exposed to 24 varieties bought. 

Setting ourselves some constraints, removing some of the options off the table, is more likely to get us out the door than adding more possibilities. 

“I’m sorry I wrote such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one”
– Blaise Pascal, Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln (take your pick)

The liberating effect of constrains. Reducing our choices is more likely to get us out the door.

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There are two types of qualification.

One is those that are bestowed on you externally by universities and colleges, professional bodies or schools. 

They confirm that you know or can do something to a standard. 

They are necessary but are only part of the picture when thinking about qualifications. 

External qualifications cannot replace our own personal sense of feeling qualified for what we do.

In the past this was learned through experience, think apprenticeships, and it was accepted that it took time.

Today there is a race to notch up externally approved qualifications.

Many people move so fast in the external qualification world that they forget to work on their internal qualification.

Getting ourselves to a point where we internally feel qualified to do what we do is a challenging introspective journey that nobody externally can bestow on us.

When we align our external and the internal qualifications, we can feel truly qualified. 


Degrees and qualifications are only part of the story

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Being nice and being a mensch

“She’s such a nice person.”

“Isn’t that nice.”

“What a nice guy.”

Mr Decker my English teacher always told me that nice is not a very nice adjective. I think he said it was a bit soft, weak or anaemic.

Like all good lessons, it has taken me 30 years for this to hit home in the real world of people and relationships.

What is mostly ‘nice’ in people is not always real.

It is often the veneer on top. The superficial. 

Nice people could also have the real depth that sits underneath, but not necessarily. 

I’ve found that nice people can be found lacking when a real test of character comes along. 

Conversely, the people who are not so nice, a bit rough around the edges and not as polished, often shine brighter when their true mettle is tested.

The above may be too simple of course but then my take away is more profound.

When describing character, the word mensch is reserved for the special people. The people who go way beyond just nice. 

Nice is for everyone else. Those who are just, well, nice.

Nice is not always as nice as you think








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