Learn More About Sheena Iyengar
When organizations are looking for new, innovative ideas, the conventional wisdom is to convene a brainstorming team. But, according to Columbia Business School Professor Sheena Iyengar, the path to true paradigm-shifting innovation is to think bigger than a brainstorming session by narrowing down the choices.
Blind since a young age, Iyengar is a child of parents from a strict cultural background in which individual decision-making was limited. Her experience with being told she wouldn’t be able to make many of her own life choices led to her interest in understanding how, and why, we make the choices we make.
Her first book, the bestselling “The Art of Choosing” (Twelve, March 2010), was a Financial Times and Goldman Sachs 2010 Business Book of the Year as well as the #3 best business and investing book on Amazon’s 2010 year-end list. In it, the S. T. Lee Professor of Business takes a rigorously researched approach to understanding which parts of choice are innate, such as cognitive function and limitations, and which parts are learned through the influences of cultural and social elements. Iyengar provides deft analysis of how we make choices in her 2010 TEDGlobal Talk that’s been viewed more than 4 million times.
Explaining that choice serves two main cognitive functions – as the tool we use to create and the tool we use to pick and find – she points out that the exercise of picking and finding has become much more complex in the modern day. She concludes that businesses may simply be offering too many choices to consumers. According to Iyengar, the optimal number of options to present is seven.
“We have a narrative that choice is this wonderful thing because it’s the only tool you have that enables you to create the future you want,” explains Iyengar, who in 2023 received the Innovation Award and was named the #6 management thinker in the world by Thinkers50. “But the many options we’re presented with today can lead us to become overwhelmed, choose less well and be less satisfied with our ultimate choice.”
Thinking Bigger to Unlock Exceptional Innovation
The solution, Iyengar explains, is to create more meaningful choices. She developed the groundbreaking Think Bigger MBA course at Columbia, which applies neuro and cognitive science to teach students to apply a structured framework, the Think Bigger Choice Map, to zero in on and thoroughly evaluate the most meaningful options to innovatively solve the questions that matter most.
“‘Think Bigger’ gives you the ability to see choice where others see no choice,” explains Iyengar, Chair of the Nominating Committee for Asian University for Women. “The reason I developed ‘Think Bigger’ is to remove the platitudes to show everyone the how behind creating the most meaningful choices which lead to creative ideas.”
Iyengar has trained design teams from E&Y and KPMG to Hearst and Seramount on the Think Bigger framework, which can also be found in her new book, “Think Bigger: How to Innovate” (Columbia Business School Publishing, April 2023). In it, she presents a six-step framework for innovation that promotes the power of creative thinking and empowers anyone to open the proverbial “black box” of creativity. By sharing real-world stories of successful innovators and plainly explaining what outside-the-box thinking actually is, “Think Bigger” helps organizations innovate and grow through a disciplined approach to making choices that includes practical tools for generating, identifying and cultivating the best ideas.
“Innovation is simply a useful novel combination of old ideas that solves for complex problems,” explains Iyengar, who was named one of the World’s Best B-School Professors by Poets & Quants. “By being forced to combine unexpected sets of options, we can answer the critical question of how your mind actually forms great problem-solving ideas with less cognitive bias.”
More Structure, Better Choices, Greater Innovation
From a background of many life choices being made on her behalf to becoming one of the world’s top experts on choice, Iyengar’s research and expertise offers fascinating insight into not only how and why humans make the choices they do, but also how the process of choosing can be fine-tuned to spark creativity leading to groundbreaking innovation.
“Limiting choice is a proxy for structure,” Iyengar concludes. “By editing the available choices, we’re able to organize, see the differences between options and find the possibilities that offer the most impactful solutions for unique innovation challenges.”
Sheena Iyengar is the ST. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia Business School. Her first book, “The Art of Choosing,” was named a Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year in 2010 and was ranked #3 on the Amazon’s list of the Best Business and Investing Books of 2010.
Her research is regularly cited in the media, including in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Atlantic, BBC and NPR. Iyengar has also appeared on television, including on The Today Show, The Daily Show and Fareed Zakaria GPS.
In 2002, Iyengar received the Presidential Early Career Award. She has been ranked by Thinkers50, the definitive global ranking of the top 50 business thinkers and rated one of the World’s Best B-School Professors by Poets & Quants. She has developed and taught courses on a wide variety of topics, including decision making and leadership, globalization and authenticity.
In addition to conducting research and teaching at Columbia Business School, Iyengar frequently speaks to audiences that range from Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits to government bodies and medical institutions around the world.
Iyengar is the Chair of the Nominating Committee for Asian University for Women, sits on the board of advisors for Correlation One and is a serving member on the Global Council for The Asia Society.
She graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with a B.S. in Economics and a B.A. in Psychology and received her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Stanford University.
Sheena Iyengar is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.
Columbia Business School Professor Sheena Iyengar is one of the world’s leading experts on choice and decision-making. Author of “The Art of Choosing” and “Think Bigger: How to Innovate,” she presents rigorous research on how and why we make the choices we do, the influence of innate and learned elements and how to supercharge innovation through choice mapping. In small group workshops and one-on-one advisory sessions, Iyengar helps leaders and teams understand consumer decision-making behavior and leverage powerful tools to solve complex problems and innovate in new, unexpected ways. She is available to discuss any or all of the following topics in programs that can be customized to meet the needs and goals of your organization with the added option of meeting virtually or in person.
- The Art of Choosing
- The Neuro and Cognitive Science of Decision-Making
- The Cultural and Social Influences on Decision-Making
- Think Bigger to Unlock Creative Innovation
- Applying The Think Bigger Choice Map
How to Create Meaningful Choice Maps
Conventional wisdom would have us believe that the more choice, the better — that the human ability to manage and the human desire for choice is unlimited. Findings from a number of experimental and naturalistic studies challenge this assumption and demonstrate that decision makers are less likely to make a choice when choosing from an extensive array of options. Moreover, even when decision makers do choose in the presence of a greater number of options, they’re likely to choose in a manner at odds with their future financial well-being.
In this highly interactive session, Columbia Business School Professor Sheena Iyengar leads participants through the Think Bigger Choice Map, a powerful tool for creating tangible maps of actionable ideas. In this hands-on guided demonstration, she shows how individuals and teams can take a structured approach to identifying which available options for a given problem are the most meaningful. She illuminates how…
- Choice helps us go from who we are today to who we want to be tomorrow
- Choice is the only tool that helps us pick and find
- Choice is the only tool we have to create our most meaningful choices
- Choice gives us the ability to imagine the future we can achieve
With the option of being presented in a half-day, full-day or two-day format, participants will gain a practical, immediately applicable tool for solving complex problems and innovating in new, unexpected ways.