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What’s in a cup of tea?

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To put it simply, a cup of tea is the smallest unit of choice. Decisions such as the amount of sugar, milk, and blend of leaf reflect an exercise in the power of choice. Case in point, Sheena Iyengar, author of the Art of Choosing, and a leading authority on choice theory, talks about her tea-time troubles during her stay in Japan. When Ms. Iyengar ordered a cup of green tea with sugar, it was followed by a polite refusal by the waiter with the dictum, “One does not put sugar in green tea.” Email UsGet in touch with our experts to know more about usE-mail:
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“I know,” Ms. Iyengar replied, “I’m aware of this custom. But I really like my tea sweet.” In response, the waiter chose to give her an even more courteous version of the same explanation. “One does not put sugar in green tea,” he insisted.

“I understand,” she offered, “that the Japanese do not put sugar in their green tea, but I’d like to put some sugar in my green tea.” Slightly taken aback by her insistence, the waiter took up the issue with the manager. Pretty soon, a lengthy discussion ensued.

Finally, the manager arrived and declared, “I am very sorry. We do not have sugar.” At this point, Ms. Iyengar gave up and asked for a cup of coffee, which the waiter brought over promptly. Resting on the saucer were two packets of sugar.

Clearly, when in Japan, do as the Japanese do, avoid sugar in your green tea. But, the dilemma here is far deeper than the culturally accepted levels of sugar in tea.

Ms. Sheena Iyengar ( studies choice. Her research is about the art of choosing and the fundamental differences in how cultures, and the markets therein, perceive choice. She explores how choices lead to the creation of individual identity as well as the ethos of a community.

Choices are pivotal decisions in the shaping of character, both individual and corporate. But, as we all know, we are inundated with choice. Arun Roy, Group Account Manager (Sales) at BluEntCAD believes that setting limits sometimes helps restore the balance. Roy observes, ‘The paradox of choice depends on who the benefactor of choice is designated to be. And, given the nature of markets, this keeps changing from person to person. If we analyze from the vantage point of the consumer, then the consumer always benefits when the market responds to demand and increases choice through competition. If we look from the vantage point of the supplier, competition (choice) is usually greeted with uncertainty.’

He goes on to explain, ‘Less may not be more anymore. Big data and analytics have changed the way enterprises plan choice. Also, the extent to which the paradox of choice impacts a consumer’s willingness to spend is proportional to the value and the necessity of the investment. For instance, I buy a tube of toothpaste from a new brand. If I don’t like it, I choose to throw it away. But when I buy a new smartphone, my investment is too great for me to simply discard it. I have to live with my choice.’

How does choice theory affect a market with shrinking budgets and fierce competitors? We are settling down with tea (sweet, of course!) to understand this unique paradox. To watch Ms. Iyengar’s complete talk, click here.

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