The paradox of choice: as a manager are you a satisficer or maximizer?

One of the key skills managers get hired for is their decision making ability. Considering how many of key business parameters are driven by how effective our decisions are, it is definite a topic getting into the details of.

as a manager are you a maximizer or satisficer

We begin with a question on the paradox of choice: as a manager are you a satisficer or maximizer?

Are you a maximizer or a satisficer?

Satisficers are those who make a decision or take action once their criteria are met. That doesn’t mean they’ll settle for mediocrity; their criteria can be very high; but as soon as they find the car, the hotel, or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied.

Maximizers want to make the optimal decision. So even if they see a bicycle or a photographer that would seem to meet their requirements, they can’t make a decision until after they’ve examined every option, so they know they’re making the best possible choice…

In “the Paradox of Choice”, Barry Schwartz argues that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers.  Maximizers must spend a lot more time and energy to reach a decision, and they’re often anxious about whether they are, in fact, making the best choice.

There are a number of “big” decisions that we need to make in life. Whether it’s related to a new job, a house, or even marriage – all these choices require a considerable amount of thought going into them. While having many options to choose from can be helpful, it can also tend to get extremely confusing at times.

Herbert Simon referred to two kinds of people based on how they make decisions. And based on our work experiences, we can easily define two sorts of managers:

Manager 1: “Is this alternative the best?”

Managers that have a deliberative mindset, much like perfectionists. They want to make the optimal decision for which they research as many alternatives as they can – all the available pros, cons, and variations – before making the final choice. They also have higher expectations from their selections, and so experience higher levels of disappointment.

Manager 2: “Is this alternative acceptable?”

Managers who make a decision or take action once their criteria are met. They usually have some standards in place – once their threshold is met, they make their decision. Their decisions are usually quicker, their results mostly “good enough,” and overall they are more satisfied.

Decision making as managers: Happiness is a matter of choice

Studies suggest that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers. This is because most often the former are willing to get by with what “gets the job done” and not necessarily “the best.” Moreover, feelings about which option is best can always change in the face of new information.

Maximizers, on the other hand, spend a lot of time and energy to reach a decision, and they’re often anxious about whether they did in fact make the “right” choice. But too often they find the research process exhausting yet can’t let themselves settle for anything but the best. Maximizers also experience significantly less life satisfaction, happiness, optimism, and self-esteem. They are also likely live with more regret, anxiety, and doubt.

In other words, maximizers tend to obsess over every choice they make, while satisficers are usually content with whatever decision they make. Most people are a mix of both, with varying degrees of maximizing or satisficing behavior.

Considering how a manager’s behavior can impact the morale of a team as well as the way the business runs, it is important to see optimization in this front. So, how does a manager focus on becoming a satisficer rather than a maximizer?

We offer some decision making tips for managers:

  1. Become aware of how much time and energy you’re putting into making different decisions. Each time you’re faced with a choice, allocate a certain amount of time for decision making and stick with it.
  2. Question your goal to pick the “best option” when faced with decisions. Ask yourself: Is it really that important, or is it enough to pick “a good enough /acceptable” option?
  3. Get others to question you when you are striving to pick the best option.
  4. As you shift towards making “satisficing” decisions, do a quick post-decision analysis. This will help you see that you are still making good decisions while being a “satisficer.”

We hope that the next time you’re making an office decision, you’re in the know that you may be reducing your happiness. So, be planned but don’t over-think and get done with it !

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