Will Satisfaction Suffice?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the first words I learned in graduate school: satisficing. It’s a strategy in which a decision maker chooses an option that might not be the best choice but does satisfy the basic need for the decision. (The word satisficing is a combination of satisfying and sufficing.) For example, instead of finding the absolute lowest airfare possible, you search until you find an airfare that fits your budget and then you buy your ticket. Your decision satisfies your needs (airline tickets) and meets your standards (spend less that a certain amount) and so you take action.

When I first heard of satisficing, I thought it was just a fancy way to say lower your standards and settle for less. Yet Nobel Peace Prize winner Herbert Simon (who coined the phrase) felt differently. He argued, “Decision makers can satisfice either by finding optimum solutions for a simplified world or by finding satisfactory solutions for a more realistic world.” Simply put, satisficing is an efficient way of making decisions in the real world where time, money, and info are in limited supply. Satisficing helps managers, executives, soldiers, and regular citizens make decisions and implement a course of action.

I remember a point in my life when I was thinking about making a major change. I had various options, each one requiring time and commitment, and (of course) I felt I had to make the absolute best choice. (Hey, this is my life, you know!) I spent hours researching, organizing, reflecting, and agonizing over my choices and their possible impact. Rather than being excited about stepping onto a new path, I was paralyzed by anxiety and insecurity. I kept asking myself, “How do I know there isn’t something better out there?”┬áIn the end, I stayed where I was and never made any change at all.

And therein lies the dilemma of decision-making. If you want to make the best choice, you need to know what is the best choice. This can lead to a lot of second-guessing and, possibly, not making any decision at all. If you do make a decision, you may find that something better was indeed out there, causing you to lose interest in the choice you made. However, if you make a decision to simply satisfy a need (keeping in mind your standards), once you make such decision you can move on. And in the end, isn’t that the point of making a choice, to get on with our lives?