Satisfice: A virus that results from the combination of satisfying and sufficing. Known to frequently infect educators who are being asked to develop ideas and plans of action for schools and school districts.
It is a deadly virus that infects grade level, department, PLC, school leadership, and district decision and planning meetings. The virus does not harm the host educator, but rather kills potential creative innovative ideas that might arise from the host by creating an urge to hastily accept the first idea or decision that satisfies the members and suffices as an acceptable outcome.
Matthew May, author of In Pursuit of Elegance: Why The Best Ideas Have Something missing explains the virus.
“In 1957, economics Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon published a book called Models of Man. In it, he examined the default human decision-making process in which we tend to go with the fist option that offers an acceptable payoff. Simon said that by nature we ‘satisfice’—his term, combining satisfy and suffice. In other words, we have a tendency to settle for ‘good enough,’ opting for whatever seems to expeditiously meet the minimum requirement needed to move us closer to achieving a given goal. We then stop looking for other ways, including the best way, to solve the problem. We rationalize that the optimal solution is too difficult, not worth the effort involved, or simply unnecessary.”
“We mistakenly pose the question “What should we do?” before asking “What is possible?” We want a solution, but we don’t have the patience to wait for the optimal one, favoring implementation over incubation. We throw some resources at the problem and move on, or tweak a previous solution and fit it to the current situation. We fail to look more holistically at the challenge. The result is we simply don’t see the best, most elegant solution.”
While the prognosis may seem grim, there is a cure, a miracle cure that can save thousands of educators from falling victim to satisfice.
Tim Hurson, author of one of my all time favorite books, Think Better: An Innovator's Guide To Productive Thinking calls this “The Miracle of the Third Third.”
“Studies have shown that in Osborn’s kind of good brainstorming, the first third of the session tends to produce mundane, every-one-has thought-of-them-before ideas.”
“Generally the second third of a good brainstorming session produces ideas that begin to stretch boundaries.”
“The third third is where the diamonds lie. These are the potential breakthrough ideas that often lead to innovative solutions. These are the unexpected connections. Whereas bad brainstorming tends to stop at the first reasonable idea and judge all others out of existence, good brainstorming encourages the generation of long lists of ideas by separating creative thinking and critical thinking.”
In other words, education has for too long been suffering from the satisfice virus and ignoring the cure. The cure is great ideas. Creative ideas. Innovative ideas. The satisfice virus has confused our brains into accepting the first idea that seems to move the agenda along. And all of education has paid the price.
“Bad brainstorming is binary; ideas are either good or bad. Good brainstorming is full of maybes. In bad brainstorming, we never get to the third third. In good brainstorming getting to the third third is the point”
Imagine the impact for students, teachers, parents, schools, school districts, and communities if more educators used “The Miracle of the Third Third” in their planning and decision making meetings to defeat the satisfice virus. You might not believe in miracles now, but just wait until you feel the healing effects of the third third in your next planning or decision-making meeting.