You face a tough decision, and there appear to be two very similar options. How do you choose? University of Texas Professor Art Markman discusses this topic in an article for Fast Company this week. He describes research that he has conducted about alignable vs. nonalignable differences. He explains:
Research I did early in my career found that there are two kinds of differences that emerge from comparisons. Some differences are directly related to what a pair of options have in common. For example, if you are deciding between two apartments, one might be on a higher floor in the building than the other. These differences are called alignable differences, because they relate to how the information about the options is placed in correspondence. Some differences are unrelated to what the options have in common. For example, one apartment might have a breakfast nook, while the other does not. These differences are called nonalignable differences.
When we compare options, we often focus intently on the alignable differences. If there are few of these distinctions, we conclude that the alternatives are quite similar. We struggle to decide. However, we need to make sure that we are also examining the nonalignable differences. These might be quite important, and they ought to be considered carefully. Markman suggests stopping the comparison and contrast for a moment. Use your imagination for a bit. Try to imagine what it will be like to live with a particular option, and that may help you understand the attributes that you care about a great deal. Then do the same thing with the other alternatives. As you examine each option in this imaginative way, you might come to understand that some of these nonalignable differences matter a great deal more than others.