Are You a Maximizer or a Satisficer? - Live Like a Mensch
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Are You a Maximizer or a Satisficer?

 Image courtesy of Obsidian Soul


Several years ago, I read the book The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, which completely changed the way I look at decision making. I immediately started telling J how he was doing his decision making all wrong and I brandished the book at him as proof of my theory. J understandably got a little tired of hearing about this and managed to avoid reading the book even though I recommended it to him about once every 37 minutes for three months. (I was really restraining myself, I must say).

The book suggests that there are two types of decision-makers. The first type are what Schwartz calls maximizers. These are the individuals who meticulously research their decisions, carefully weighing options and features, and waiting to make a final decision until after they are absolutely certain they have found the platonic ideal of whatever it is they are researching. Unfortunately, since nothing in this world is ideal, maximizers tend to second guess their decisions even after they have been made. Because there still might be a better option out there.

The other type of decision-makers are called satisficers. Unlike the maximizers, satisficers are willing to accept whatever is good enough that fits their basic criteria. So a satisficer looking for a new pair of jeans will go ahead and purchase the first pair they try on that fit, are within their price range, and don't make their butt look too big. A maximizer will keep looking, because there's got to be a better pair of jeans out there somewhere.

As it turns out, J is a maximizer and I am a satisficer.

(Mostly. There are a few things that I go crazy maximizer on, like finding the crib for LO before he was born. I wanted something built in America [because of the lead concerns from China] that was a convertible crib that was not ridiculously expensive that came in a dark wood etc, ad infinitum. I finally found a crib [that I couldn't afford but Grandmensches kindly purchased for us] and then the child didn't sleep in his crib for the first year. I'm hoping that cured me of any maximizer tendencies.)

Maximizers tend to drive satisficers a little crazy, which is why I believe they often marry each other. You see, satisficers are just pleased to have a decision taken care of and done with, while maximizers don't consider any past decision, include what to eat for lunch two hours ago, as off the table. You can often hear a satisficer who is married to a maximizer shout in exasperation, "But we already decided on this!"

For me, I know that I have been a satisficer most of my life, although not always. I actually know the moment when I changed over from maximizing to satisficing.

That moment occurred on a trip to Toys R Us when I was a child and my dad was insane. He took myself, my sister, and my cousin to the toy store to each pick out a toy for ourselves.  I was torn between the Snoopy Sno-Cone maker and another toy which has been lost to the mists of memory and time. I took so long pacing between these two toys that my father finally told me (with saintlike patience) to decide now or I would go home with nothing. (On an unrelated note, I don't believe I ever set foot in a toy store again until I was a grown woman and I could drive myself there). Forced by authority to finally choose, I went for the toy that wasn't the Snoopy Sno-Cone maker. I have no idea whatsoever as to what toy I chose that day, but I can still describe to the last detail the Snoopy Sno-Cone machine.

(Or I could just look up a picture of it because we live in the future and Google Images is a thing).

To make a long story short, I was maximizing.

With that particular toy defeat in my head--since I clearly did not get my father's money's worth of enjoyment out of the other toy, what with all the Sno-Cone pining--I stopped being nearly so particular and started making decisions that were practical and based on less stringent criteria. It's how I bought the third wedding dress I tried on. (True story!)

That's not to say that satisficers are always happier with their decisions (although that's pretty much exactly what Schwartz is saying). I have certainly satisficed my way into some doozies of bad purchases/decisions. But for those purchases that don't turn out to be mistakes, satisficers are much happier with them than their maximizer counterparts are. Because satisficers don't spend all their time yearning for the Snoopy Sno-Cone machine that got away.

So, whenever J starts maximizing his decisions, I try very hard to refrain from telling him "You're doing it wrong! Remember the Snoopy!" I recognize that each individual must experience his own Snoopy Sno-Cone epiphany moment and that learning to be satisfied with good enough is a lifelong process.

Also, I imagine I'd sound pretty annoying.


Snoopy Sno-Cone Maker image source.



haverwench said:

Hm. I don't really see the whole maximizer vs. satisficer dichotomy as a strictly either-or thing. It seems to me that there are some decisions that deserve a lot of careful consideration, such as choosing a house, spouse, or car. Others, like what flavor of ice cream to get at Baskin-Robbins, are less important. Even if you do end up wishing you'd gone with the Jamoca Almond Fudge instead of the Nutty Coconut, so what? The Jamoca will still be there tomorrow. But if the right way to make *every* decision were to just take the first one you find that's acceptable, we would have paid we would have paid $19,000 for a Ford Fiesta and not even bothered to test drive the Honda Fit, which cost $4,000 less, and which we absolutely love. That's why I think the bigger the decision you're making, the more you should lean toward the maximizer end of the scale. If a hasty decision leads you to choose the wrong brand of cat litter (as we did), you can always switch again, and you're only out 30 bucks or so--but if a hasty decision leads you to buy the wrong house or marry the wrong person, well, that's a big problem.

January 16, 2013 2:54 PM

Emily Guy Birken said:

Haverwench, it sounds to me that you are a satisficer. The thing about maximizers is that they have a very hard time deciding that they have found an acceptable option. They research and research and continually second-guess their decisions. Satisficers are certainly willing to do research and shop around, they just accept that there's a point when they'll stop looking. For example, a satisficer might check out four or five cars that they might want to buy and test drive all of them, and decide from there. The maximizer will test drive them all and then feel like they need to look at more options in addition to those four or five, because there *must* be a better option out there. It's more of an agonizing process for them.

January 16, 2013 5:37 PM

Maggie Trudeau said:

Oh yeah.  I'm a maximizer.  I'm still worry about getting the wrong degree in college...and I have FOUR of them (but maybe with one more....).  I heard myself summed up at the grocery store once by a wife, exasperated with her husband who couldn't choose a frozen treat:  "It's not a major life decision, do you want chocolate or vanilla?"

I laughed because I understood the husband.  But what if he gets chocolate and it turns out they have chocolate syrup which would be way better on the vanilla.  BUT, if he gets vanilla and they have no chocolate syrup, well...you see the issue.

I find that setting a time limit or bringing a satisficer friend along when a decision must be made on a purchase, helps.  When I needed to buy a car, but it wasn't a crisis, I brought a satisficer friend who said something unprintable and then "it's a fine car, just buy it."  It is a fine car.

January 17, 2013 7:45 PM

Esaungikar said:

I read somewhere that for most decisions, look at three options.  Then taking the best, look at up to 5 more; when you find something better than the first 3 choose that; if you get to 5 and none better, take the best of your first 3.  Apparently, this works out statistically to be the best choice 96% of the time.

As a 'satisficer' married to a 'maximizer', I can only say, I'm flattered (as a maximizer, he chose me, but as a satisficer, I chose him)  ;-)

January 21, 2013 3:27 PM

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