• StratEDgy

    The StratEDgy blog is intended to be a thoughtful hub for discussion about strategy and competition in higher education.


Make a Choice

While options are advantageous for obvious reasons, there is a point at which too much choice might actually make life more difficult.

February 26, 2012

Generally, markets and competitive forces allow organizations in an industry to provide a range of affordable products and services from which consumers can choose.  This is mostly positive - we have the freedom to select the product or service that best meets our needs.

However, we have all been faced with a decision that has been complicated – or stopped dead in its tracks – due to an overwhelming number of options.  From shoe departments to supermarkets, there is a trend toward offering consumers more and more choices. Prospective and current students are not immune. From selecting a college to choosing a major, the range of opportunities is remarkable. Boston University’s website alone lists over 130 undergraduate majors. 

Will all this choice lead to satisfaction and success? Maybe not.

While options are advantageous for obvious reasons, there is a point at which too much choice might actually make life more difficult. In this TED Talk, Barry Schwartz explains the “paradox of choice.”  As Schwartz points out, too many choices can be paralyzing, create unrealistic expectations, and cause regret. 

“With so many options to choose from,
people find it very difficult to choose at all.” Barry Schwartz

The higher education industry has recently exploded, with new institutions and organizations entering the fray. This can create a confusing marketplace for students to navigate. At the same time, institutions are also tempted to perpetually broaden their degree portfolio, there are more organizations to partner with, and new ideas for revenue growth. Setting aside the positive aspects of this evolution, it becomes difficult to hone in on the best strategic path forward.

With the trend toward ‘more choice’ playing out all around us, organizations have to find ways to selectively focus. Here are two.

  1. Understand your organization’s core competence. What is your organization really good at? While we are all bombarded with an abundance of possibilities for most decisions we face; knowing where your organization excels – before being faced with the decision to add another program or pursue a new partnership – narrows the range of options to the best and most relevant. This means a more focused discussion of potential paths forward, and likely a more focused market offering.
  2. Understand the power of strategic trade-offs. The heart of strategy is knowing what you’re not going to do. If you can’t remember the last time your organization made a decision to do this instead of that, one potential outcome could be wasted time and resources in areas in which the organization does not excel. Deciding not to do something leaves more time and focus to put toward your organization’s core competencies, which increases the chances for successful initiatives.

Both personally and organizationally, with the astonishing range of options confronting us, it can become more challenging to make decisions.  By understanding what you’re truly good at, you’ll then be better prepared to pursue only what makes strategic sense.


How have you managed amidst this choice-explosion?


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