Choosing Between Competing Alternatives 

J. Keith Hughey


Volume XXII, Number 20 (Issue 1076) May 13, 2024 

Choosing Between Competing Alternatives 

When was the last time you were faced with having to choose between competing alternatives? It probably happened earlier today. If not, I can guarantee it will happen soon. For instance, you had to decide about do I read today’s Musing now, later, or not at all. In a matter of hours you will be faced with a decision about what you have for lunch or dinner today. Perhaps the choice you will have to make involves what do I do next given a list of things of varying importance that you have to/want to do today. 

You and I are constantly confronted with having to make all sorts of choices. Unfortunately, few of them are binary. That is to say, it is rare when the choice is limited to “do we take door number one or door number two?” Much of the time we are challenged with multiple options from which we must make a studied selection. 

I recall reading about the results of a research project – I think it was described in the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell – where shoppers were given an opportunity to sample a small number of jellies after which their jelly purchases were tracked. Next, the number of samples (options) dramatically increased, and purchases were again tracked. The result was that when the number of options was significantly increased fewer purchases resulted. The lesson is that if you want someone to choose from among a group of competing options, the best course is to limit the number of options from which they must choose. 

Thus, to the extent you can structure a choice as if it were binary (limited to option one or option two), it becomes much easier to make a decision. Restricting the choice to two – especially from among a field of options – works wonders. It is analogous to March Madness or the NCAA tournament where sixty-four teams are selected to vie for the national championship but rather than have the tournament structured as a round-robin, teams are 

systematically paired, and the winner of each match moves forward. Over the course of sixty-three games an overall winner eventually emerges. 

Whether the choice involves something weighty like picking from among a list of possible strategic initiatives, a decision of moderate import where you are winnowing a list of bullet points for a presentation or publication, or is as inconsequential as what’s for lunch, the same model can be applied. As to the factors that may weigh in on your decision, that is a matter for another Monday. 

For now, simply know there are ways to improve the quality of your decision-making that are not overly complicated. 

Soli Deo Gloria 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6 

J. Keith Hughey

Mobile: (210)260-0955



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