Problem Solving Pitfalls #2 – The Satisficing Solution

There are three common pitfalls that can affect the quality of our problem solving work. This is the second.

The Satisficing Solution

The term ‘satisfice’ is defined in the Princeton University Online Database as:

Satisfice: (v) to decide on and pursue a course of action satisfying the minimum requirements to achieve a goal; ‘optimisation requires processes that are more complex than those needed to merely satisfice

We could expand on this to say that in the process of problem solving, ‘satisficing’ is behaviour which attempts to choose the first solution that is ‘good enough’ (that is satisfactory and sufficient), but which does not strive to solve the problem to its fullest. The list of options considered is not exhaustive. Only the more obvious options are considered in order find the first one that meets some minimum requirements.

Partial Rationality

The word satisfice was coined by Herbert Simon in 1957. Herbert Simon was a researcher in the fields of cognitive psychology, computer science, economics and philosophy. Simon said that people are only ‘rational enough’, and in fact relax their rationality when it is no longer required. He called this ‘bounded rationality’.

Simon believes that most people are only partly rational. He said that they are in fact emotional / irrational in the remaining part of their actions. He also said that ‘boundedly rational agents’ experience limits in formulating and solving complex problems, and in processing information. What he was trying to say is that in complex problem solving, people construct simplified models in which they capture the essential features of problems without all of the complexity. Individuals then apply rationale and logic within the boundaries of this simplified model.

The Minimum Solution

The pitfall for us is to take the ‘satisficing’ view in all cases. The ‘minimum solution’ approach has its application, but we should not always settle for a solution that just solves the problem. There are times when we might take the opportunity to find a solution that takes us to a new level of performance, particularly in the competitiveness of 21st century business.

On a continuum of minimum solution to perfect solution, the ‘satisficing’ approach targets the lower end.

Satisficing Solutions

Satisficing Solutions


This is an extract from George Lee Sye’s Systematic Problem Solving for Managers. The tools and processes presented compliment the Lean Six Sigma toolkit with a specific focus on event based business problems.


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