Thursday, May 2

Only One Kind of Milk

I recently spent a few days in Paris ... honestly the first "real" vacation time with no kids that I have spent in years.  Sure, I've taken days here and here, often tied to business trips.  But I had not been "away" for the sole purpose of selfish relaxation in over a decade.  That's life, right?!?

Well I finally unplugged and spent some time enjoying the simple things in life:  strolling through a beautiful city (rather than rushing to make a train), visiting flea markets (instead of feverishly buying online), sipping lattes at an outdoor cafe (instead of gulping them down in line at Starbucks), and eating lots and lots of French bistro food (the kind you just can't find anywhere else).

I had two moments that really struck me and have stuck with me ever since.  Two moments that made me realize that (dare I say it) perhaps we are over marketed and perhaps (dare I say it) we have too many choices.

One moment was at a little cafe we popped into because it had started to rain one afternoon.  It rained just long enough for us to have a latte and a pastry, almost as if someone had wanted us to sit and enjoy something new for a spell.  When the waitress came over, I asked if they had soy milk.  She laughed and said to me, "sir, we only have one kind of milk in France and it's the milk we use to make delicious lattes."

Only one kind of milk!

The next night we asked our hotel where we could go for the best steak frites ... we wanted a classic French bistro meal.  We were pointed to a place not far away that only served steak frites.  Little did we know that they take that point seriously ... that's all they serve.  In fact the only choices you have is how you want it cooked (raw, medium, or well and nothing in between) and if you want red or white wine (just those two choices).

Only steak frites!  Only red or white!

There was something quite liberating about both of these experiences.  I spent no energy making a decision, just sat and enjoyed the experience the way the restaurants and servers intended.  No weighing of options, no debating about what to have, and no substitutions to complicate the process.  Just delicious food, beautifully prepared.

Quite freeing, actually, and made me think that perhaps we've gone too far with so many options that don't really add a lot more value.  Too many options that don't really make a difference except to complicate the purity of the experience.  Too many options that make the decision a little more stressful.

Are there just too many options?  What's your experience?  Jim.

Jim Joseph
- President, Cohn & Wolfe NA
- Author, The Experience Effect series
- Professor, NYU
- Contributor, Entrepreneur

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