Are you a maximizer or satisficer? And why you would care?

A maximizer tries to produce the best result, which may mean spending time and effort in improving only marginally an already acceptable result. How marginal? A day out in Spain at a little village, being walked around every possible shop with 2 young children looking for a cheaper poncho. Result 2 hours in and out of shops, and a saving of 12p!

A satisficer chooses the first result that satisfies the minimum requirements to get the job done. We all probably tend to one or the other. Both have strengths and weaknesses. Satisficing is a heuristic – a rule of thumb. We have good evidence that these work at least as well as the big spreadsheet, let’s get all the data solutions so beloved of MBA graduates, most of which are completely impractical for most businesses.

Over the last 30-40 years consumers have tended to buy more stuff, and change to the latest stuff whenever possible. This has been fueled by marketing activity to attract them, whereas most of the time the improvements gained have been at the expense of replacing rather than acquiring a truly new innovatory product. We have been led into behaving like maximisers, whether predisposed to that or not. That has contributed to growth of a sort, but not more employment, as replacing one product with another is not a net gain in jobs; only new products achieve that. We can wonder if this has led to increasing levels of dissatisfaction with the next best thing, when it turns out to be not so good, and if that has contributed to our disaffection with the world as we know it. As James Wallman put it in a recent BBC article – we are suffering from stuffocation – too many things, cluttering our minds and lives.

So the first point is simply this: should we as a society break from a need to maximize, and would that make us happier? Might we individually become more aware of the marketing messages we are exposed to, and consider our choices more closely before buying the next mobile phone, or TV? And what does that mean to us as consumers, and business owners?

Perhaps the recession has taught us to be more selective already. If it has, have we as business owners changed our message to the market to accommodate this? Or are we still pushing stuff at our target customers? After all, do you want to be sold to? If you don’t, why expect your customers to like it? We have talked before about customers now want to be listened to much more, and want individual solutions to their needs.

Recent studies have shown that it is experiences, rather than things, which make us happiest. Experiences can be a day out, or it can be the experience of owning and using the product you have just sold them. The key is to make it an experience, not just a product. To do that, you have to experience the whole customer journey yourself, so that you understand exactly how it feels to buy and then use your product. Remember, the journey is only part way through when a customer buys. Most companies think that is where it stops! Happy customers tell people about their experience in buying from you, but importantly, also about their experience of using your product, so make sure they are telling people what you want them to hear.

Secondly, as entrepreneurs should we be aware of when we are acting as satisficers or maximisers, to check which position is best at that moment? Successful entrepreneurs work well at high level and also at granular levels. They are good at horizon scanning, planning the overall direction and mission of the firm. But they are also good at detail – the essential elements that make the plan work. And they make sure they do the detail every day, as they know that they can’t let it slip. So they switch between satisficer – high level for direction; and maximiser, to make it happen. Unfortunately most entrepreneurs get caught up in maximiser role. They don’t spend enough time out of the detail, making sure that the overall direction and vision of the firm is clear and in the right general direction. Caught up in the day to day, they lack strategy and a simple reporting mechanism to ensure that their objectives are satisfied. It’s easily fixed, and brings results which usually include an unexpected increase in happiness. We have plenty of evidence from our clients.

So are you naturally a satisficer or a maximiser? And do you know now when you should change? If you need a handy way of thinking about it ask yourself this simple question. Do I want to save 12p?

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