One of the greatest recognitions about organizational decision-making is Nobel Laureate, Herbert Simon‘s notion of “satisficing”. Satisficing is the maximizing of multiple divergent inputs toward a goal based on a weighting of divergent parts. While the end product is rarely ideal from the perspective of any discrete participant’s perspective, its measure of utility is in the compromise that satisfies constituents’ interests.

The rationality of the satisficing outcome is in providing a platform for future decisions—based upon participants’ newly calibrated inventories of satisfaction versus sacrifice.

At the level of individual behavior, we all learn to satisfice as well. A recent article by Michael Parsons in The Irish Times articulated the toughly virtuous Churchillian satsficings of the British during WW II: “dig for victory, stiff upper lip, crying is for housemaids, must carry on, fight them on the beaches.”

Yet, reflecting, I find myself wondering about the soft virtues of satisficing that we generally ignore. Indeed, not to partake of such virtues is to act utterly irrationally, in contradiction to Simon and the principle, itself. Why not ‘take” what is freely given/gettable to all? Yet, our lockstep notion of satisficing privileges sacrifice in the service of the adequate outcome– without enough (selfish?) emphasis on the freely given and taken, when sacrifice is unnecessary. The banner example is kindness.

I wonder about the self-destructiveness of such behavior. True, pleasure is personally gratifying, and so, possibly sinful. Why risk it, even given our socialization in cultures of pleasurable excess? Behavioral economists suggest to us that we’d prefer to limit the downside of risk (or pain) rather than to maximize potential benefit. But why write down the pleasures of kindness, as Adam Phillips has aptly suggested we do, as weakness when it provides costless pleasure; but for the conscious realization that we enjoy mutuality and reciprocity, and that a productive sense of contentment is not the function of a “stiff upper lip?”

Kindness, it seems, freely given and taken, disrupts the notion that pleasure or satisfaction, must come with personal sacrifice. It might work for organizational decisions, but it certainly disrupts the potential joys of relating to others!

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The Irrationality of Sacrifice In Satisficing


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