Published Mar 8, 2005

My teammates this term are great, but one half of my team has a profound difference with the other half — hopefully, it shan’t be irreconcilable. See, half of my team is made of perfectionists; the other half, including me, is made of satisficers.

What’s a satisficer? Well, a perfectionist, as you all know:

  • Prioritizes the quality of output over everything else
  • Checks and re-checks work to make sure it’s right
  • Will work until the last minute to get things done properly
  • Does a perfect job, regardless of the constraints
  • Collects information and revises until just before the project needs to be delivered
  • Constantly reviews past decisions to ensure that they were optimal
  • Sees good as the enemy of best

The satisficer, in contrast:

  • Tries to do the best job reasonably possible, given the constraints (in b-school, the constraint usually is time)
  • Considers the marginal improvement of outcome (in b-school, often, the grade) when considering any marginal increase in output (hours working, etc.), and only increases output when the outcome justifies said action
  • Plans out projects, progressing from stage to stage within a project
  • Doesn’t revisit past work or decisions unless they’re particulary disastrous; prefers to forge ahead with the reasonably good work done so far (see marginal ouput vs. marginal outcome above)
  • Finishes ahead of time, not at the last minute — and not least because the satisficer is not detail-oriented enough to catch little (or, often, big) mistakes at the last minute
  • Sees best as the enemy of good

It was just luck that put me in a group with four other satisficers last semester; I didn’t see this work behavior pattern as a possible source of problems. This semester, it hasn’t been too much trouble, although the three satisficers in my group (including me) have a tendency to try to go home at an early hour, not least because we get frustrated covering the same ground over and over again (better each time, sure, but then we’re back to marginal ouput vs. marginal outcome, and, believe me, I assign the same amount of marginal output a much higher value at 1am than I do at 1pm).

It’ll be fun to see how we solve this. My group is filled with great people and I’m sure we will muddle through somehow. Six people who all want to do well can’t be stopped just by completely different approaches to project strategy and work behavior!