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Be a Satisficer, Not a Maximizer


When you’re given a task to accomplish at work, do you insist on doing everything in your power to accomplish it in the best possible way, or do you work to get the job done so that it meets requirements, and move on?


(Photo Credit: paro_for_peace/Flickr)

Yes, this is a trick question. If you insist on the best, you’re what’s known as a “maximizer” — and you might be wasting time, energy, and sanity. “Satisficers,” or people who select the first option that meets their needs, might sound like slackers on paper, but in reality, they’re working in the most efficient way for folks who want to get a lot done, and done well enough to make a difference.

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At Slate, Katy Waldman explains:

“…[S]atisficing [is] a decision-making heuristic that marries the concepts of ‘satisfying’ and ‘sufficing.’ Coined by the Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon in 1956, the term means picking the first option that meets an acceptability threshold, rather than trying to optimize or maximize. Simon’s work as a professor at Carnegie Mellon centered on the limits of rationality and rational choice; in his economic vision, we rarely know enough to select the actual best outcome — and even when we may find it out, the concomitant expenditure of time and resources is often too high. Simon also realized that mushrooming possibilities can paralyze people. Together, these insights led him to the conclusion that, in a lot of cases, our best strategy when faced with a decision is simply to devise a list of guidelines and adopt the first solution that satisfies them all.”

The list of guidelines is important, because it keeps satisficers from just doing what seems necessary at the time (or ducking out for a latte instead of polishing their presentation for the 3 o’clock meeting).

The benefits of satisficing go beyond being able to get more done, including:

1. Feeling satisfied after a decision.

Maximizers, studies have shown, experience more regret after making, say, a purchasing decision. Because hindsight is 20/20, and time is a limited commodity, there will always be — or seem to be — better choices lying just over the horizon. Satisficers know that they’ve done enough, and they’re able to move on.

2. Making better choices.

Maximizers are more likely to get frustrated, Waldman says, and “throw up their hands” and make a random decision that doesn’t conform to guidelines. Their choices, therefore, are likely to be less sound than those of folks who say, “This is the best I can do, under the circumstances.”

3. Being less prone to social comparison.

Because maximizers don’t start off with a list of guidelines, they’re more likely to compare themselves unfavorably to people who made different decisions.

Take that great engine of social comparison, Facebook. A maximizer, who buys car on a whim after days of frustrating research, sees a friend’s new ride and thinks, “I should have researched that make and model. What if it’s better?” A satisficer looks at his list of guidelines and thinks, “This car has the gas mileage and the features I absolutely required.”

In other words, be a satisficer. It’ll make your work day more productive and your personal life much easier.

Tell Us What You Think

Are you a satisficer or a maximizer? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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