a decision-making strategy or cognitive heuristic that entails searching through the available alternatives until an acceptability threshold is met.
To further clarify the meaning a bit more let's compare satisficing to both 'satisfying' and 'optimising', in the context of buying a wedding dress. Most people approach the purchase of a wedding dress using an optimising strategy. They look through many brochures, websites, and stores to get a feel for what's available. They might make a shortlist of their favourites and then try them all on before finally picking the best of the best. Regrettably for their enduring companions, many people also continuing looking even after finding one they love, just in case there's something better out there. After some time, or because the deadline is looming, they settle on the best they've found.
Very few people stick to their up-front requirements when shopping for wedding dresses (or more likely, don't define them at all). How often have you heard someone comment that they spent more than their budget because they fell in love with a dress, or they wanted a certain style but then tried on something else and it was just perfect? But simply satisfying requirements, on its own, is not a strategy. The optimal choice definitely satisfies the requirements, but then so do many other choices too. Which of the choices that satisfied the requirements should be selected?
By deciding that the first choice that satisfies also suffices, we establish a strategy: satisficing.
Satisficing as a strategy has three stages:
- Define the requirements of the problem.
- Evaluate solutions until finding the first one that satisfies the requirements.
- STOP LOOKING FOR MORE SOLUTIONS!
If step three is actually performed, satisficing saves a lot of time and effort in selecting a solution. For a manager short on time or staff to test various solutions, (or a future spouse short on patience...), knowing that something is good enough and you can stop looking is hugely valuable thing. It also makes evaluations easier and more objective than subjective, because you're looking for flaws rather than scoring things. It's usually easier to judge faults ("you stepped over the line, you're out!") than quality (gymnastics competitions use five judges because individuals are fallible).
Where it fails is when people turn around and say "But what if there's something better? Shouldn't we look at X and Y as well?" This is a regression back to an optimising strategy, and needs to be nipped in the bud. In managerial practice there's a step zero that can defend against this, where you ensure everyone else in your organisation agrees to abide by the satisficing strategy, or else delegate the decision to someone who will. If you're in an organisation where people say "Nobody gets fired for buying IBM", then you're unfortunately in an organisation that will default to an optimising strategy. But if you have the freedom to take individual responsibility for decisions rather than by commitee, then give satisficing a shot.
- What if we find something better later?
There's always something better. The point is to find something suitable. If you're willing to pay the switching costs, there's nothing stopping you from doing so, but you should honestly review your original requirements and see if they have changed - if they still suffice, you shouldn't change.
- What if you just didn't look hard enough, and there was something obviously and massively better?
You don't need better, you just want it. Set your requirements, and satisfy them. Everything else is wasteful.
- This won't work because one of our requirements is to minimise costs.
That's not a requirement, it's a wishlist. Set a budget instead, and find something that meets it. If you're feeling really masochistic, you could also read my thesis on meta-optimisation when the resource used to optimise (time/money/etc) is the very same resource you're trying to optimise. Or you could take my word for it that you'll almost certainly waste more money than you save.