On Satisficing

“Satisfice” is a word I picked up in my college psychology class. It’s a portmanteau of “satisfy” and “suffice,” and it means to search until an acceptable solution is found. This is opposed to searching for an optimal solution, which may be much more difficult. Optimizers demand perfection; satisficers just want to find something good enough and stop looking.

I am a satisficer.

In some areas, everyone is a satisficer. When you’re looking for a greeting card, you probably don’t examine every single one to find the best. You just look until you find one that works, and buy that.

But I satisfice in everything.

In driving: I find a route that gets me there, and then I take it every time, without worrying if there’s a faster way. In restaurants: I find something I like to order, and then I order that most of the time. Investing: I find an investment that meets my financial goals, and then I stop looking for alternatives.

I’m even a satisficer in my writing. It’s just that, in writing, my bar for “good enough” is abnormally high. But once I reach it, I stop fiddling. I’m done.

Betsy, my wife, is an optimizer. She wants to keep looking.

This is especially apparent when we’re shopping for clothes or home furnishings. As soon as I find something I like, I’m finished. Everything afterward is an exercise in tedium. I just don’t care enough. She, on the other hand, wants the best-looking room, the best-fitting clothes.

Neither strategy is inherently better, and both can be dangerous in the wrong situation. I miss out on lots of cool stuff because I stop searching so quickly. Betsy is sometimes paralyzed with indecision because she compares so many variables. Together, perhaps, we form a single rational person.

Do you satisfice or optimize?

3 responses to “On Satisficing

  1. I’m a satisficer, definitely. I’m eating a slice of pizza and somebody says there’s a place across the street where the pizza is much better, but I’m thinking this: once I eat this slice I’ll no longer be hungry. And that’s the goal I’m trying to achieve.

    I don’t think you can write serial fiction unless you’re a satisficer — I imagine an optimizer would constantly want to go back and rewrite what’s already been completed and posted.

  2. I have become more and more Agile over the years.

    For anything that is not a one off, I satisfice the first attempt then use it while looking for a better alternative.

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