Discard the broken crockery

Christopher Hsee of the University of Chicago conducted an experiment with dinnerware. He asked people to price 2 dinnerware sets at a clearance sale.

Set A had 40 pieces: 8 dinner plates, 8 salad bowls and 8 dessert plates in good condition. 8 cups, with 2 broken ones and 8 saucers with 7 broken ones.

Set B had 24 pieces: 8 dinner plates, 8 salad bows and 8 dessert plates all in good condition.

One can easily observe that Set B is a subset of Set A. Set A has 6 additional cups and 1 additional saucer in good condition, when compared to Set B. When people independently priced these two sets of crockery, they offered an average of $33 for Set A vs $23 for Set B. The information of the defective pieces within Set A led respondents to undervalue it despite it having more unbroken pieces in total.

Things that are well made restrict themselves to the essential. The best design is minimalistic. The best phone came without buttons. The best websites have the least amount of clutter. A wardrobe with 6 elegant dresses is better than one with 20 dresses and 8 elegant ones. The additional noise in any system pulls down its entire value.

This principle is counter-intuitive. There is always the temptation to add more, and often, the things that are broken aren’t as obvious as defective crockery. Our resumes are better off without lines to merely fill up the page. Our writing is better with short sentences free of unnecessary adverbs or adjectives. The emails we write, the speeches we make – noise is everywhere once we look for it.

This noise surrounds the essence with most things, much like dirt buries a fossil. The discerning eye recovers the fossil by brushing away the dirt, while retaining the essence.

Source for the experiment: Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

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