My friend Geoff at The Junto started a book club at his place of business, P’unk Avenue. I thought I’d read along. The book to be read is The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz.
Ding #1 came in the intro. Much of the funding for the research in the book (and perhaps funding for the book itself) came from the Positive Psychology set. As a scientist and technologist, I have to say I’m not at all impressed with the dubious basis of the Positive Psych movement, the center at Penn, and its leader Marty Seligman (Just look into the Templeton Foundation and its religious objectives, then ask yourself how religion gets into the business of funding research, and how reliable those results must be…)
Marty Seligman is mentioned in the first few words of The Paradox of Choice’s Acknowledgments. That is usually enough to stop me. But I read through it and moved onto the first page. This is where we hit Ding #2. Mr. Schwartz begins with whining about how hard it was to shop for a pair of jeans. Not, mind you, how hard it is to find jeans that fit, but Mr. Schwartz complains that it took him more than 5 minutes to shop for a pair of jeans because, Horror of Horrors!, the store clerk tells him that the store has different options in jean styles:
“Do you want them slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy or extra baggy?” she replied. “Do you want them stonewashed, acid-washed, or distressed? Do you want them button-fly or zipper-fly? Do you want them faded or regular?”
This was all too much for Mr. Schwartz. He complains that he just wants “regular” jeans and that the whole shopping trip should have taken less than 5 minutes. He says:
Before these options were available, a buyer like myself had to settle for an imperfect fit, but at least purchasing jeans was a five-minute affair. Now it was a complex decision in which I was forced to invest time, energy and no small amount of self-doubt, anxiety, and dread.
This was where I stopped reading. Let me tell you why.
1. The whole image/metaphor reeks of solely the male perspective. We women don’t want to settle for an imperfect fit. We’ve been doing that for years and we pushed the industry to give us more options. We could use a few more, actually. Mr. Schwartz’s whole complaint and value set (time is worth more than effort in terms of looking your best) did not apply to me. The rest of the book would undoubtedly be tainted with this old-white-guy perspective, and I have had enough of that.
2. Why did Mr. Schwartz go to the Gap (or some similar denim specialty store) to buy jeans? He could’ve had his 5-minute shopping experience at a store like Kohl’s or JC Penney, where the jean selections for men are trimmed to the bare essentials. Mr. Schwartz fabricated this situation just for the book. I’m sure he doesn’t normally shop at the junior or trendy stores normally. If he set up this shopping situation for the book’s sake, then what other research in the book was set up? His credibility was lost even further. This plus the whole Templeton Foundation/Marty Seligman association is enough to make me shut the book.
So, that’s that. The Paradox of Choice wasn’t much of a choice for me at all. I could’ve set aside my disdain for the Positive Psychology associations to just see what Mr. Schwartz’s perspective was, but with this particular opening scene, I knew the book wasn’t credible AND it didn’t apply to me. He obviously didn’t have any women read, edit or feedback on that first chapter. He should’ve chosen shopping for electronics instead of something so gender biased as jeans (or clothes in general).
Anyway, Geoff, sorry. I can’t hang with this particular spewage. Maybe the next book can be one of Dan Ariely’s or Daniel Pink’s books, both authors I interviewed for my podcast. Those are actually good, gender-neutral, well-researched and credible works.
Did you read The Paradox of Choice? Let me know what you thought.