Future of Work: Maximizers vs. satisficers

Maximizers and Satisficers

I just discovered the blog associated with ‘I Done This’ — task management software, better (less) meetings, etc. — and it’s pretty good. Here’s an entry on “maximizers” and “satisficers.” There’s a visual comparison I’ll post below, but essentially you can think of “maximizers” as those chasing perfection and always wanting everything to be great. They, as a result, expend more time and energy on decisions and think about what could have been. Satisficers are a bit more (for lack of a better term) “laid-back.” They accept good enough, and they can move on after deciding something.

Logically speaking, the way most organizations are set up, a maximizer is going to rise higher and make more money. People love “Type-A” and “go-getter.” I know this because I’ve probably never been considered either of these things (despite being somewhat intelligent) and I came to realize eventually that I probably will never rise as high as someone who is considered these things.

So yes, the maximizers do make more money — but that doesn’t really mean anything:

Overall maximizers were less satisfied, unhappier, and more stressed — despite the fact that they ended up with an average of $7,430 more in salary than the satisficers. They had diligently looked for the very best option, taking into account more external sources of influence including social standards and input from family and peers. Even after getting their job, maximizers continued to fixate on alternative paths than the one they chose and wished they had pursued even more options.

(The bold was mine.)


I have about a million thoughts on this, but I’ll try to condense it to a couple that might actually make some sense. Here goes nothing.

1. The hiring script in America can kind of suck, honestly. You see the same thing in the marketing space — it would be really good for marketing to have more introverts, but it’s nearly impossible because of the “how” / “what” of hiring, especially for a job like marketing. All goes back to a couple of basic issues around Human Resources and recruiting (see here, here, here and here) and how we don’t always (as organizations) think about who we need — the type of person that would best fit a role — but often about what we need — the archetype of person we believe we want. I probably messed up that last sentence, but the idea is: we don’t hire that well.

2. This is where that problem starts to get dicier: managers aren’t very good. If you take a misplaced hire, add a bad manager, and add in this idea about “maximizers” (which a lot of managers probably are, because the “go-getters” tend to get promoted more), you are dealing with an abject train wreck. Seriously, think about this: oftentimes, when a person leaves a job, one of their biggest complaints about their manager was “lack of communication” (never going away) or “deems everything a priority” (here we go).

You’ve had this boss. I’ve had this boss. The person that deems everything a priority, all the time? That’s a maximizer. Then, in the face of competing priorities, you send them work — and they critique and question aspects of it, despite 14 other things being on the current docket. That accomplishes literally nothing except churning work back into the pipeline.

3. This is probably an incorrect number, but I’d guess about 50 percent — maybe a bit higher — of standard office work is purely transactional in nature, meaning the difference between an “A-level” job and a “B-level” job will hardly be noticed by a single soul. (On potentially transformative projects, of which there are far fewer, those stats are different.)

4. Your job isn’t the same thing as your self-worth, so there’s no true need to be a “maximizer.”

5. For those of you that think these are the disgruntled rumblings of someone who feels he’ll never be promoted properly or whatever, consider this from the IDoneThis article:

The tricky truth is that simply attaining and maximizing for external goals fall short.

If you have maximizer tendencies, strive towards aspirations and motivations that come from within. Adopt the satisficing mindset and like Jon, try to find and be at peace with enough. You can get started by practicing the 70% rule of decision-making, which provides a mental cut-off point to limit time looking and waiting for the best. Instead, you pursue choices that elicit a 70% approval rating from you and you can iterate or evolve from there.

As for Jon, satisficing is proving to be the most optimal strategy to thrive and be happy:

The biggest surprise is I haven’t slowed down my creative output, I’ve just re-directed my energy….It’s tremendously freeing and has done wonders for my work. I’ve never been happier, more creative, or more satisfied.

Never been happier.

Or more creative. 

Or more satisfied. 

That should mean something, right?

Final thought: if you had to make a list of the hottest / most relevant companies of the past 20 years, Facebook would probably be top-five, right? At least top-10?

Well, consider this: Mark Zuckerberg, before the initial IPO, sent a letter to investors saying “done is better than perfect.”  That’s become a mantra of their “hacker culture.” And hey, for the most part, they’re doing just fine.

Ted Bauer

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