In this book review:
- The Art of Choosing, by Sheena Iyengar.
- Redirect, by Timothy D. Wilson.
What the book is about
As the name suggests, this book by renowned Stanford psychologist Sheena Iyengar discusses the concept of "choice".
It seeks to answer a number of questions about the topic, including: what drives our choices, what external factors influence our choices, how to marketers use such factors to influence our purchase habits. It also discusses the cultural differences relating to choice, and how this may have an impact on our daily lives as well as our careers, life decisions, and more.
In my mind, there are 2 key takeaways from this book:
1- Fewer options lead to better and more effective choices: the author demonstrates how people in a supermarket are more likely to purchase a jar of jam when 6 are on display and more likely to walk away without purchasing when confronted with dozens of choices. Children are more likely to play with toys when there are 5 of them in the room vs. 20.
2- Cultural background has a profound impact on choice: many Asian cultures prefer NOT to have certain choices and are content being "told" what to do. They feel uncomfortable when faced with having to make certain choices they did not grow up making. Western cultures by contrast thrive on freedom of choice.
These concepts have powerful and far-reaching implications, and would be useful in the worlds of marketing, business, politics, psychology, etc.
However, I found the book to be extremely disjointed. I had a hard time "following" the book, as the author kept on jumping from one topic to another, then reverting back to the previous topic several chapters later.
I would have scored this book higher had it been edited better. The concepts in the book are powerful and certainly of use to many. However the disjointed nature of the book and the difficulty in finding a thread to follow takes a lot away from the strength of the ideas being presented.
Now that you know what the central premise of the book is (what I discussed in the review above), you may be satisfied with "just knowing". If you're keen on reading the author's (well-researched) arguments to support these concepts, then reading this book would certainly not be a waste of time.
What the book is about
This book's author is a world renowned social psychologist who is an authority on modern social psychological problems (e.g. gang violence, teenage pregnancy, etc.).
After framing the problems, the author advances a number of "tools" one can use to "redirect" the way an individual or groups of people "think" and therefore "behave".
For example, he presents the concept of "Story Editing", which, while powerful, is not a new concept: if your child does well on an exam and you tell him/her: "you did well because you're smart", you're not encouraging him/her to work hard, because there is nothing one can do about "being smart". On the flip-side, if you tell your child: "you did well because you worked hard", now the child is associating the result with something "within his/her control", and this leads to behavioral change.
Other concepts presented including the "fake it till you make it" principle, writing things down to "get them off your chest", and the power of "positive thought reinforced by positive behavior".
All great concepts...
This was a difficult book to review. On the one hand, the concepts being presented are powerful, real, and with potentially far-reaching consequences. On the other, the author focuses almost exclusively on solving "social problems" using a variety of psychological and cognitive psychology tools.
This is not surprising as the author is first and foremost a "social psychologist". As such, framing the book around major challenges in the modern society (teenage pregnancy, gang violence, etc) does make quite a bit of sense.
Nevertheless, I found that the majority of the concepts in the book are far from original (I've come across most of them in other books) and fall somewhat short on practical applications: after all, if a parent is faced with an aggressive teenage child, I find it difficult for the parent to contend with applying the principles of this book as opposed to seeking the help of a trained psychologist.
If you happen to have an interest in social psychology, then have a read. However if you're focused on self-development and you're seeking tools and techniques to further develop your (and your loved ones') performance in "life", there are far better books out there (and which I've reviewed in the past).