This is a mixture of satisfy and suffice, and it is aiming to make decisions that are good enough, adequate, and serve their purpose. This stands in stark contrast to those who wish to maximize their decisions with “just in case” and “that sounds nice” extras. Those who maximize are looking to make a perfect choice. This doesn’t exist, so they are usually just left waiting.
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Mental Model #4: Satisfiction
Use to achieve your priorities and ignore what doesn’t matter.
Satisfiction is a made-up word, but not by me. I suppose that means it could be a real, official word.
The next mental model for decision-making focuses on increasing our speed by focusing only on what we need. In doing so, we will probably realize that we need far fewer things than we originally thought and that our desires are masquerading as needs.
The word satisfice is a combination of the words satisfy and suffice. It’s a term that Herbert Simon coined in the 1950s, and it represents a handy alternative from those of us who seek to maximize the benefit we derive from a decision. As it turns out, most of us are split into two categories of decision-makers: satisficers and maximizers.
The maximizer is someone you might be familiar with. They want everything possible, and they’ll try and try until they get it. They’re picky to the point of being frustrating, and take all of their allotted time to make a decision, every time. Even then, they’ll still second-guess themselves and regret their decision. The satisficer, on the other hand, can more accurately determine what really matters and focuses on those things. They get in and get out, and happily move on with their day.
Suppose that you are shopping for a new bike.
The maximizer would devote hours to researching their decision and evaluating as many options as possible. They would want to get the best one possible for their purposes and want to leave no stone unturned. They want 100% satisfaction, despite the law of diminishing returns – the poor return on investment from so many hours of research. The tires must be a certain brand, the frame must have a certain ratio of metal and plastic, and the brakes must be a certain color. Also, they want all of these things at a far below market price. This would make sense if the maximizer was a professional cyclist that frequently competed in international competition, but they are just an occasional weekend warrior.
The maximizer wants to make perfect decisions. This is typically an impossibility, and even if the maximizer feels they have finally reached this elusive goal (after hours of deliberation and introspection), they will probably quickly grow unhappy again because they won’t be able to stop imagining other outcomes and greener pastures.
By contrast, the satisficer is just shooting to be satisfied and find an option that suffices for their purposes. They want something that works well enough to make them satisfied and pleased, but they don’t need to feel overjoyed or ecstatic. Most anything will suffice so long as their general purpose and needs are taken care of. In other words, they aim for good enough and stop once they find that. What is a bike, really? It has two wheels, a sufficient frame, a comfortable enough seat, and working brakes. Most everything else is negotiable and not of interest to the satisficer.
This may seem like I’m downplaying how complex a bicycle can be, but I assure you that is not the case. The point being made is that this mental model recognizes but actively chooses to disregard most factors because they are not essential and thus don’t serve the goals of mere satisfaction and sufficiency. They go too far above them.
Maximization represents a conundrum in our modern age, because while it is more possible than at any point in human history to get exactly what you want, there is also the paradox of choice, which makes it impossible to be satisfied. On a practical matter, there are decisions where we should strive to maximize our value. But they are extremely far and few between.
We are primed to make decisions on “just in case” or “that would be nice” or “wait until people see this” scenarios. We frequently waste time on what doesn’t matter and what will never matter.
Most of our decisions are adequately made just by choosing an option that is reliable and honest. Suppose you are in a grocery store and you are trying to pick out the type of peanut butter you want. What should you shoot for here? Satisficing or maximizing? Clearly, you should just choose a peanut that falls within two or three of your general parameters and call it a day. Whatever net benefit the most optimal type of peanut butter brings to your life is likely not worth the extra effort it took to find it.
There is nothing to truly be gained by maximizing your choice in peanut butter, and this is a truth that applies to 99% of our daily decisions. Otherwise, we are constantly overwhelmed and waste our mental bandwidth on maximizing where it doesn’t matter and where there are massive diminishing returns.
The concept of satisfiction is embodied in what is variously called the 37% rule or the secretary problem. It supposes a fictional workplace that is interviewing for a new secretary position, and there are 100 candidates to be interviewed. Yet after the first 37, you will already understand the range of candidates and how qualified they may or may not be. In essence, you won’t interview anyone that is different from what you have already seen; a maximized outlier is either extremely unlikely to appear or simply doesn’t exist.
After seeing only 37% of the possible candidates, the rule instructs you to simply stop and make your choice then, because you’ve seen it all already and already know what you need to be both satisfied and feel that the candidate suffices. Of course, that is the zone of satisfiction. Strap on this mental model to save time and narrow down what you really want.
An easy method to seek satisfiction and not be unknowingly seduced into maximizing – spending way too much time on something that doesn’t matter – is to set boundaries for yourself. This isn’t about boundaries on research; rather, it’s about boundaries on what you’re looking for.
For example, if you go on a shopping trip for a new jacket, helpful boundaries are to only look at jackets that are made out of cotton, navy blue, and within a certain price range. It narrows your scope based on predetermined requirements. It allows you to quickly eliminate options while also knowing you will be satisficed at the end of the process.
A corollary to setting boundaries is to first decide upon a default choice up front if you can’t decide within a set amount of time. The act of creating the default choice is important because you will have automatically selected something that fits your requirements or desires. You’ll be happy in either case, in other words.
In many instances, the default is what you had in mind the entire time and where you were probably going to end up regardless of going through the motions and endless debate. You go through the mental exercise of choosing a “default” with the idea that you might end up there anyway.