I read a thought-provoking article, “The tyranny of choice: You choose” over at the Economist today.
The tagline of the article reads, “If you can have everything in 57 varieties, making decisions becomes hard work” and from that launching point you are taken through a fascinating examination of the reactions a human being experiences when confronted by too many choices and what implications those reactions have for companies and brands.
The topic of this article really resonated for me because facing the “Tyranny of Choice” is exactly why I am created Matt About Business.
When I first began to get into online software a few years ago, I used to spend days on what I call, “list sites”.
You know this beast, though you may call it something else. On a list site, you’ll find links to dozens, if not hundreds, of solutions for accounting, project management, collaboration, website creation and so much more all neatly organized by categories or tags.
Like Forrest Gump, each list was like a box of chocolate; I didn’t know what I would get when I clicked on each link – a great tool or a fruit-filled mess.
All I knew was that the possibility of finding something cool and useful drew me on and on and on.
The only thing missing was context.
Too Little Information
You see, even though I was finding all these great tools, I was missing two important pieces of contextual information:
Was the tool really any good?
Beyond looking for reviews (which are always lacking in the sort of details I need), the only way I could find out if the tool would work for me was to take it for a test-drive.
Now, I have no problems with test drives. In fact, I suggest using test drives in my guide, “The non-techie’s guide to finding and choosing software online“ which you can receive for free by subscribing to my newsletter at the top of the right sidebar on this page –>
However, the list sites gave me so many choices with no way to narrow the field that I found myself having to test drive all the options.
That took a lot of time.
Did the tool really do what I needed it to do in the way I wanted it to do it?
Software comes in many shapes and sizes and online software is no different.
For example, under the Accounting listing on the list sites, I found solutions that ranged from full accounting functionality to simple invoicing applications.
There were so many types, but no way to know which of these would fit my needs.
What if I already had an accounting program, but now needed a way to record expenses? Yep, I had to sort through all the solutions to find the right one because there is software that just records expenses and then there is software that offers more such as recording mileage for driving expenses or paying expense reimbursements via direct deposit and so on in a multitude of permutations.
This also took a lot of time.
The Alternative to Choice
In the software world, the alternative to a broad choice of solutions is what I call, “vanilla solutions”.
These all-in-one solutions are very powerful and can do just about anything you need, but they typically have a steep learning curve and must be configured from step one, often in code. Think of a Swiss army knife that comes with all the pieces in separate boxes and you have to learn to weld before you can attach the parts you want.
Some examples: SAP, Oracle Apps, Salesforce (before their small business offering).
For a small business, vanilla solutions are typically overkill. You just don’t need that much solution and you wind-up spending a lot of money on something of which you only use a small part.
So, which will it be: tons of small, targeted solutions that you need to learn to navigate in order to fit into a puzzle of business technology or one large, expensive pill which you need to learn to configure and support?
C: None of the Above
The answer is one which has been my passion and business for years now: having someone sort through the tons of choices for you and suggesting a small, targeted set of solutions which fit your existing business setup and needs.
Oh, and it has to be affordable, too.
Yes, as the Economist article concludes, limiting choice for consumer products can lead to better sales and happier customers.
However, limiting a businesses’ ability to do business to a set of solutions which do not meet their needs is another matter entirely.
Yes, the field of available solutions could use some trimming and that will happen through natural consumer selection.
However, what is truly needed is a site which acts as a guide and gives context to the field of possibilities.
And that’s why I created, and come to work every day on, Matt About Business.