“It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” — Tony Robbins
Satisficing isn’t about finding the best fit.
It’s about finding a good enough fit for the current situation.
In Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, Gary Klein writes about satisficing. The key here is that satisficing means figuring out what a satisfactory outcome would be and then finding ways to achieve it.
Quick Decisions Under Extreme Time Pressure
Klein goes on to point out that this is how experienced fire ground commanders can quickly make effective decisions under extreme time pressure.
Rather than explore all possible options and evaluate their trade-offs, they quickly run a mental simulation in their mind. If they find the option won’t work, they move on to the next.
Satisficing is efficient for finding “good enough” solutions for complex problems under time pressure.
The difference between singular and comparative evaluation is linked to the research of Herbert Simon, who won a Nobel Prize for economics. Simon (1957) identified a decision strategy he calls satisficing: Selecting the first option that works.
Satisficing is different from optimizing, which means trying to come up with the best strategy. Optimizing is hard and it takes a long time. Satisficing is more efficient.
The singular evaluation strategy is based on satisficing. Simon used the concept of satisficing to describe the decision behavior of businesspeople.
Maximizers and Satisficers
Are Satisficers happier than Maximizers with their desired outcomes?
“Some research has suggested that satisficing/maximizing and other decision-making strategies, like personality traits, have a strong genetic component and endure over time.
This genetic influence on decision-making behaviors has been found through classical twin studies, in which decision-making tendencies are self-reported by pairs of twins and then compared between monozygotic and dizygotic twins. This implies that people can be categorized into ‘maximizers’ and ‘satisficers’, with some people landing in between.
The distinction between satisficing and maximizing not only differs in the decision-making process, but also in the post-decision evaluation. Maximizers tend to use a more exhaustive approach to their decision-making process: they seek and evaluate more options than satisficers do to achieve greater satisfaction.
However, whereas satisficers tend to be relatively pleased with their decisions, maximizers tend to be less happy with their decision outcomes. This is thought to be due to limited cognitive resources people have when their options are vast, forcing maximizers to not make an optimal choice. Because maximization is unrealistic and usually impossible in everyday life, maximizers often feel regretful in their post-choice evaluation.”
Here are my key takeaways:
- Experts find the first match. Experts avoid optimizing a single value — they look for a best fit against a set of criteria, and take the first fit against that (very quickly in their head).
- Novices have to explore more. Novices don’t have this option because they don’t know the options, don’t know the important criteria, and don’t have the benefit of experience to evaluate against.
While satisificing won’t work for every scenario, it might work a lot more often than you think, depending on what you are optimizing for.