I’ve been reading a wonderful book entitled, Focused Operations Management For Health Service Organizations by Boaz Ronen, Joseph Pliskin and Shimeon Pass and I want to recommend it to all of my readers. In this book the authors introduce the difference between being an Optimizer versus being a Satisficer. If you’re like me, you may not have ever heard of these two terms, so I thought it might be a good topic to share on my blog.
Nobel laureate H. A. Simon recognized many years ago (1957) a management situation that according to Simon, caused decision-making hardship. Simon claimed that decision makers like executives, managers, engineers, etc. were trying to become optimizers while making decisions. Optimizers are decision makers who are always in search of the best possible decision without considering time or resource constraints. To achieve the best possible decision, the optimizer gathers all of the information needed to build a model that will allow them to choose the best alternative. The problem with being an optimizer is that this approach requires significant amounts of time, effort and money. In reality there is probably no limit to the number of different alternatives that can be evaluated, so optimizers will never really have all of the needed information on hand to effectively evaluate all of the alternatives. As I said, this approach is very time consuming and sometimes very costly. The hard reality is that while the perfect solution might result in a better solution, it may simply come too late, rendering some products obsolete. Optimizers are often guilty of analysis paralysis and typically demonstrate a “failure to launch” type of behavior.
Satisficers are decision makers who are satisfied with a reasonable solution resulting in significant improvement to the system rather than waiting for the perfect solution. The satisficer sets a level of aspiration, a threshold or objective to be achieved. The satisficer’s objective is not to maximize or minimize some performance measure but to achieve a solution that will improve the measure beyond their predefined level that they had set. When this level has been achieved the satisficer sets a new target to surpass and the process repeats itself. This sort of stair-step approach to improvement keeps the organization moving in a positive direction without waiting to achieve perfection.
The satisficer’s road to excellence is based upon complying with two simple principles:
1. Set a high enough level of aspiration that is compatible with market conditions, competition, or investor expectations.
2. Adopt an approach of continuous improvement rather than optimization.
The optimizer uses optimization tools and techniques while the satisficer uses heuristics, decision rules that result in improvement, but not necessarily optimal improvement. In other words, when an exhaustive search for perfection is impractical, heuristic methods are used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution.
Without having the label of “satisficer” I have been using this approach to process improvement for years. One of the problems I often see with Six Sigma initiatives is this maniacal focus on data collection and analysis even when the solution is obvious. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating the elimination of statistical analysis, but what I am saying is, don’t wait for that sometimes elusive optimal solution when a simple solution is staring you in the face. By becoming a satisficer, you will move your organization forward in a stepwise fashion.