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When to be a maximizer and when to be a satisficer

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

When to be a maximizer and when to be a satisficer

Scott Miker

Some people take forever to make a decision.  They analyze and over-analyze and seem paralyzed in their analysis.  They just can’t seem to break out of the analysis and just choose an option.

Some people rather just pick something that gets them by.  They find something that is good enough and then make a rash decision.  They don’t analyze too much and quickly make their choices.

The individual that tends to over-analyze everything can be referred to as a maximizer.  The individual that chooses a good enough option can be referred to as a satisficer.  Barry Schwartz has done extensive research on these two types of decision-makers and argues that satisficers tend to be happier.

While there is great research on the subject of maximer and satisficer, I think that it can be something that is helpful to someone looking to improve.  We can determine where we tend to fall and then see if there are advantages to adjusting how we make a choice.

I used to be a classic maximizer.  I would over-analyze everything.  My wife and all my friends knew that if there was a decision to be made, I would attack it from every angle and do everything possible to find the perfect solution, even if that meant delaying a decision until I can know for sure that is the right choice.

But over time I started to realize the harm in trying for perfection.  When we use perfection as the standard we worry more about making a mistake than in making progress.  Instead of making a choice that gets us part of the way there, we want the perfect choice that has zero flaws.

But perfection doesn’t often exist.  Instead there are always pros and cons to everything and we aren’t really choosing a perfect option, because there isn’t one.

This makes it almost impossible to make all of the numerous daily decisions that come up.  So we get stuck in analysis mode.  This tends to drive those around us crazy as they plead with us to “just make a decision!”

After reading Rory Vaden’s book, Take the Stairs, I started to realize the error in my analysis ways.  Rory does a great job explaining why we should shift our focus on progress, rather than perfection. 

I started to be able to make quicker decisions and live with the results.  I would be confident that I spent time analyzing and didn’t just pick one at random, but I also know that whatever I pick has pros and cons.  After the decision is made it became easier to move on and not obsess over whether or not I made the right decision.

From an improvement standpoint this made it much easier to keep making progress towards my goals.  I knew that I had many steps to take so I spent less time analyzing each step and more time focused on just making progress. 

Barry Swartz, who studied maximizers and satisficers, claimed that satisficers were happier.  I certainly felt happier when I could make a decision and move on.  And this helped me keep growing and improving, which also helped increase my happiness.

But I don’t think it is that simple.  I think we should see where we are on the continuum and then adjust to make sure we aren’t too far in either direction. 

Some decisions require a lot of analysis.  If we never want to explore something before jumping to a conclusion, we will never be able to understand the situation enough to make a systematic decision.  Instead of fixing a problem from occurring again in the future by changing the design of the system, we simply find a Band-Aid fix that will eventually result in a similar problem down the road occurring. 

So if you find yourself on either extreme, understand the value in the opposing way to make a decision.  There is value on both sides and if we can jump from one to the other fairly quickly, we can start to use the right decision-making strategy for the situation. 

We can then make progress the focus, not perfection.  But we can also rest assured that we aren’t following the ready, fire, aim mentality, never giving enough upfront thought to properly analyze something.  We gain the value from each method, and apply the appropriate method to the situation we are facing.