When the Answer Is Not the Answer

​​In 1947, economist and Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon published a book entitled Administrative Behavior. In it, he coined a new word: satisficing.

Satisficing - a combination of the words "satisfy" and "suffice" - is anything that​​ seems to satisfy your requirements and is also sufficient to the task.

It flies in the face of what is known as the rational decision-making model​​.

According to that model, people make rational decisions by following a series of steps:

  1. Define your problem
  2. Research and brainstorm all possible solutions
  3. Decide the success and failure probabilities for each one
  4. Describe the potential results of each solution
  5. Choose and test the best one
  6. Track and analyze what actually happens.

If this sounds like a great theory, then that's only because it is. A theory.

It's a theory because it's what people would like to do, and it's what they believe that they do.

The truth, however, is that most people tend to act irrationally.

This is relevant for you as an entrepreneur.

​​​​​​​​Satisficing only makes sense when you compare it to the idea that decisions are made in some kind of rational fashion.

If I asked you point blank if you made rational decisions, then immediately you'd say that you did.​​

Satisficing, however, says that you don't.

Instead, you stop looking for a better answer when you've found one that you like.

The one that you like satisfies the question that you've asked, for example, "what should I do next?" and it also seems to you to be sufficient; that is, that it's good enough.

Maria Konnikova, in her book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, however, says that you "tend to consider [your] task complete even if it's far from being so" (p. 142). In other words, you satisfice.

Although brainstorming every possible solution may be a waste time, it's also more than likely that when you use satisficing to solve an entrepreneurial problem, that you stop looking before you find the right answer.

In other words, the answer that first presents itself isn't really the answer. It's only an answer. And what Konnikova points out is that although satisficing appears to be an efficient way to work, it's not effective. That is, the answer is not the answer.

Although there are no silver bullets, there are better answers, and that means that as an entrepreneur you need to learn to recognize when the answer that you find is less than ideal.

That doesn't mean that you strive for perfection. Instead, it means that you must resist the temptation to stop looking when an answer first arises because the chances are good that it won't actually answer your question.

This may explain why so many apparent solutions fail in the end.

It's also worth noting that the answer that you like may be easier to do than the more correct one that you don't. And that means that you have to fight against your natural bias to choose the easiest path simply because it's available.

What can you do? How can you know if you need to continue to look or if you're overthinking the problem?

Part of the answer is to consider how long you've been thinking about it.

If your decision amounts to a knee-jerk reaction, then it's likely that you have some more thinking to do.

But if you've been pondering it for awhile and have considered a number of options, then it's probably time to pick one and run with it.

You see, you can err just as easily by failing to think as you can by overthinking.

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