Monday, July 11, 2011

Satisficing

Theory of Constraint talks a lot about avoiding local optima, about maximizing the system and not its parts. This leads to road runner ethics, to making sure we are not trying to be more accurate than the noise in the system and so forth. The Theory of Constraints solutions tell us what to do at a good enough granularity. The rules are simple. Don't protect every step, protect the system by protecting the constraint, maintain flow. The tools are there. DBR and sDBR, CCPM, Logistics. So what's the problem?

The problem is there is still a void, although it seems to be just a verbal one. If we are not optimizing, if we are not "doing the best we can", than what are we doing? We can't just brush this off as being "just a verbal thing, just definitions", definitions are the starting point of clear thinking, as Dr Goldtratt taught us repeatedly.

There is another reason that makes this important. While the human logic can accept fuzziness, our subconsciousness can't, and that's where it counts the most, since most of our decision making is actually done there, at the most instinctive level. There are no voids in the subconscious mind and there are no gray areas. Like Master Yoda said in one of the Star War movies: "Do, or do not, there is not try". That's your subconscious mind for you.

So, for our subconscious mind not "doing the best we can" is, actually "not doing the best we can" or, if we'll put English grammar aside for a second, "doing NOT the best we can". Which sounds bad, doesn't it?
So, we really need a good name for not optimizing. That name, to me, should be "satisficing", a term I first heard during my MBA from Prof. Boaz Ronen, a TOC disciple in the academic world.
Satisficing means being good enough, not perfect. It has lots of merits. It reduces "analysis paralysis" and stress levels, allows for better flow through faster outputs  (I demonstrated this while discussing the hiring process here) and it sounds good.

What do you think?

Edited to add:
Following the replies I got here and on LinkedIn, I guess satisficing needs a bit more elaboration. Here's an easy example - say I have to prepare a birthday bash for a 6 years old and my goal is to make that 6 years old as happy as possible. I know I'll make a chocolate cake, cover it with chocolate cream and decorate it. Once the cake is ready I can make this cake:   decorated with M&Ms and a sugar paste "Happy Birthday". Time invested is about 1 hr and child is very happy.


On the other hand, I can make this cake: covered with sugar paste and decorated with sugar paste designs. Time invested 4-5 hrs (at least) and child is very happy, perhaps a bit more than with the first cake but not significantly so.

Both cakes are eaten up at about the same rate.


(yep, I made both of these cakes, and other "optimizer" cakes you can see here.There is room for hobbies in this wold, IMHO)

What we see is that I can go for a satisfactory cake or an optimal cake. The result, in goal units of child happiness, will not vary substantially, the only difference is the effort I put in. The first cake demonstrates satisficing - doing the necessary, the sufficient and nothing over that. The second cake demonstrates optimizing - doing the necessary, the sufficient and everything else, trying to be perfect.

One last thought (Thanks Henry for bringing it up) - whatever you do, it has to move you in the right direction. It is not enough to "do it right", you have to "do the right thing right"

I'd love to hear what you think about this.
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