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To Maximize or Satisfice?

Some interesting thoughts from Barry Schwartz by way of Orson Scott Card:

The Ornery American

In Schwartz's book, serious decision-makers are largely divided into two broad groups: Maximizers and Satisficers...

Satisficers are people who have high standards, but once those standards have been met, they decide and act and don't look back.

Maximizers, however, are committed to finding the best -- the best quality, the best features, the best price...

Satisficers can be fussy; but, once they make a choice, they're done. They move on.

Maximizers, however, are never done. Because they are committed to making the best possible choice, they can never say "good enough" and move on. Instead, they put off their decision longer and longer, constantly looking for even better possibilities.

And when they do make a choice, they still keep looking, inwardly beating themselves up over their choice whenever they find one that might have been better.

Maximizers are never satisfied because no matter what they choose, they can find a reason why their choice was wrong and they've somehow failed.

There are a couple of other groups. "Pickers" are those who have simply given up making serious choices. They just take whatever comes to hand first and then, if it turns out to be a lousy choice, they toss it and pick again. It's a wasteful system and the results are almost random. They have simply surrendered.

Perfectionists, on the other hand, might seem to be Maximizers, but they're not. A true Perfectionist is always trying to get better and better, but he knows that perfection is unattainable, and is willing to make choices along the way. Schwartz's example is, for instance, a player like Tiger Woods, who practices endlessly in order to perfect his technique -- but he doesn't wait to play in competition until he has achieved perfection. He competes all along. He will try to be closer to perfection tomorrow -- but the skills he has today are good enough for him to play in today's game.

Keep in mind, though, that almost nobody is a Maximizer or Satisficer or Picker or Perfectionist at everything. We maximize on some choices, satisfice on others.

After reading this, I can see how destructive the Maximizer personality type can be, and how I am a Maximizer in some ways, and a Satisficer or Perfectionist in others.

It seems to me that a lot of the never-wanting-to-settle-down-and-get-married problem that some people have is tied to this Maximizer mentality. Here in Happy Valley, Maximizers are never satisfied that they've explored all their marriage options well enough, leading them to endlessly continue the hunt. And this problem is, I think, compounded by all the emphasis on marriage being eternal. For the Maximizer inside us, the "E" word is a red flag.

So, I don't want to take this entirely into a marriage discussion, but what do you guys think about the Maximizer vs. Saticficer mentality? In what ways are you Maximizers and in what ways are you Saticficers? Is the Maximizer mentality ever a good thing?

BTW, you can get Barry Schwar

BTW, you can get Barry Schwartz's book here. (It's yet another addition to my "books I'll never actually get around to reading" list.)


I think that I am definately a perfectionist when it comes to everyday decisions, I strive for the best one, but knowing that it is probably unattainable, I make "as-close-to-perfect-as-I-can" decisions. Then there is of course, the picker in me, which usually is applied to my classes, sad to say. I think relationship wise I am definately a maximizer. I am that way because I have this voice in the back of my head telling me that everyone I date is also a maximizer-type and they won't be able to settle on me, so I shouldn't settle on them.