Are you a maximizer or satisficer?

Tue, Dec 11, 2007

Simplicity Rules

This post is part of a series about The Paradox of Choice, a book about why more is less. Leave a comment below and I may randomly pick you to win one of three autographed copies. Read more of this series.

So, we’re in a society with almost infinite choice. Why is that so bad? Unfortunately, many of us have a tendency to need to investigate all possibilities. That can be especially tough with so many options. Those who succumb are attempting to maximize.

Maximizers need to be assured that every purchase or decision was the best that could be made. Yet how can anyone truly know that any given option is absolutely the best possible? The only way to know is to check out all the alternatives.

The alternative to maximizing is to be a satisficer. A satisficer has criteria and standards. She searches until she finds an item that meets those standards, and at that point, she stops.

If this sounds like the incrementalist and the completionist, it’s very similar. The completionist wants it to be just right–he wants to investigate all the possibilities. The incrementalist is looking for is “good enough for now”–she is satisficing.

In the book, Barry Schwartz argues that maximizing too much makes us unhappy. I’ll show a few more examples of that later in this series.

Before you get down on yourself and feel even worse, it’s important to note that you are not one or the other. There are things about which you maximize and others where you satisfice. The trick is to acknowledge your weak points and find ways to be happier without investigating all the options.

What do you maximize? Have you found any solutions?

3 Comments For This Post

  1. bubna Says:

    When it comes to choosing products or services, i definitely lean towards satisficer. However, when it comes to tasks i undertake, i often must fight completionist tendencies.

  2. Tom Watson Says:

    Recently I was choosing some cheese for a tasting we were doing at the office and I was overwhelmed with the possitilities. I knew I could go to a fancy cheese shop or do lots of research online to try and find some incredible cheese, but instead I just went down the street to a local co-op and talked to the cheesemonger who had a very limited selection. I even forced myself to stick with a theme (Italian cheeses) which really helped cut down even his limited choices. The cheese tasting went great and I wasn’t overwhelmed with choice at all.

    In a way I was a saticificer by forceably limiting my choices but I tried to be a maximizer within my predefined limits.

  3. Don May Says:

    I see a lot of this in the personal technology realm. People are so focused on getting the latest/greatest that they are willing to continue delaying a purchase for fear of buying an item which may be technologically eclipsed. The vast array of reviews and sources for plethora of devices can really affect buyers negatively.

    I define my top requirements, and then set a reasonable budget for a product. If nothing reliable seems to fall into that range, I simply do without until something else pops up in the market. I also try to remain open to budget models that leave off items in which I am not interested. Lastly, I never check prices after I have completed a purchase.

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