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Hobson's Choice

I was recently thinking about Hobson’s Choice due to a blog post by Seth Godin. Godin points out the (supposed) origin of the phrase: back in the early 17th century Thomas Hobson rented horses to Cambridge students. While Hobson had many horses in the stable, anyone who came to rent one had to take the one closest to the door. The student had limited choice, take the horse nearest to the door or walk. So the expression Hobson’s Choice came to mean any situation where there appears to be a choice, but no choice meaningfully exists. 

Another famous example of Hobson’s Choice comes from the early days of the production of the Model T when Henry Ford famously said, “you can have any color you want, as long as it's black.”

The connotation around Hobson’s Choice is negative. The implicit message is that the students with limited choices about which horse to take were somehow being shortchanged.

I am not so sure that is true. Any horse they rented would get them where they wanted to go and they were saved from the anxiety of having to stand around and choose. And at least today, having not to make a decision seems like a blessing.

We are a world awash in choices, too many choices. On a recent trip to the supermarket, I picked up a package of my favorite gluten free pretzels. It was not until I got home that I realized I had inadvertently selected Honey Mustard gluten free pretzels. I just wanted my regular plain pretzels. I did not even notice this choice until it was too late. 

Famously, Steven Jobs reportedly wore his iconic black turtleneck and pants every day so he did not have to waste brainpower selecting an outfit. He consciously was trying to limit the number of choices he needed to make.

As leaders it behooves us to determine which are the critical choices we should make and which choices we should delegate, so we need not expend any energy on them. Wasting your time making too many minor choices will limit your ability to focus on key, strategic choices. Those are harder to make but so much more important. Perhaps we should embrace some Hobson’s Choices.


But how did you like the honey mustard pretzels? Another great post. Thanks, Dave!

Replying to

They were actually pretty good. Thanks for asking and for reading the blog.


Reminds me of the scene in The Blues Brothers where they go to play in some small town/rural hole-in-the-wall. When the boys ask, "What kind of music do you play here?" they're told: "We play both kinds, Country AND Western."

Replying to

I like rock and roll

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