Psychology of Success

Satisficing Your Way to Success

September 23, 2019

You’re driving with your family on an interstate highway. It’s past noon. There’s rumbling in your stomach and there’s grumbling over where to stop for lunch. You’re in the middle of freakin’ nowhere.

But then, up ahead, you spot one of those it-could-be-anywhere exits with a few gas stations a McDonald’s and two you’ve-never-heard-of-them-before fast food joints.

If you’re like most people, you’ll soon find yourself pulling into McDonald’s. In fact, the reason is the key to their success.

Why the McDonald’s? It’s not because the food is great, but because, of the choices available, you and your family know that at least McDonald’s doesn’t suck.

Herbert A. Simon, the eventual Nobel laureate, named that decision-making strategy “satisficing.” It’s the cognitive heuristic, the quick decision-making tool, that allows you to filter quickly through alternatives and then accept the one that is acceptable enough. [Satisficing is a portmanteau  of “satisfy” and “suffice.”] It explains decision-making in the real world in which perfect information is unavailable and conditions are confusing
and intertwined.

That’s one of the secrets of brands like McDonald’s, Brooks Brothers, and, perhaps, your medical group or facility.

The precondition, though, is, at a minimum, not to suck in the eyes, for example, of the hospital administrator or the community from which
you draw.

Take the example of a hospital-based group, say a radiology or anesthesiology or emergency medicine group. The object is to become a brand at the facilities at which you provide service so that those consuming the brand, that is, those making the decisions to contract, and to continue to contract, with you, have a degree of familiarity with you. They know that even if you are not the best, you are acceptable. You may have warts, but you are their guy or their group with warts. With all due respect to Dr. Simon’s legacy, this concept, culturally, is hundreds if not thousands of years old. Think of the saying “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”, which has been traced back to at least 1539.

Note that I am not speaking of cutting short your goal to provide the absolute best medical care. And I’m not telling you to cut corners.

What I am telling you is that what is key to the longevity of relationships and to being seen as someone or some entity with whom to initiate and continue a relationship, does not involve a need to optimize, which is impossible, but the need to satisfice. You have to focus on sufficiently satisfying, that is, satisficing, the needs and expectations of your customers and on reminding them of that fact.

You know this is true about McDonald’s. What’s hard to understand is that the same rule of behavioral economics applies to you.

Yes, right now, off the top of your head, can you name me 30 places where you could get a much better hamburger, but none of them sold billions and none of them is recognized around the world? Think about it. Actually, how much do you actually need to think about it?

That’s the point.

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