Satisficing & using Tools to Help You Execute

Originally posted to medium:

When I was in high school, I always tried to get an A- in class, and not an A. There was a simple and logical reason for it. 90% or an A- counted as 4.0/4.0 on your GPA. So did an A and an A+. I always wondered why people spent their time trying to get an A+ if an A- was worth the same relative value. Sure, an A- might look worse than an A on paper, but when your entire 4 year journey in high schooled is rolled up into a single number, your GPA, which is what colleges use to evaluate your admission, isn’t the A or A+ just a waste of time and energy?

I found early on that I could do more — take more classes, spend more time with friends, and enjoy a happier life — if I optimized for the A-, and not the A+.

This is the concept of satisficing. And ever since high school its been something that’s guided my performance and the way I approach business and life.

In consulting, satisficing is the name of the game. Perfectionists do not exist in consulting, there is simply too much to do on too short of a timeline. Similarly, most consultants price on scope, meaning its in our best interests to deliver high quality work — 90% on the bell curve — in as few of hours & as little effort as possible.

Sure, there’s the cliche “You have to be able to identify the 20% that drives 80% of value”, but then you have to go one step further and identify the 90%, or A-, of that 20% that’s going to really achieve the goal. It’s usually good enough to be better than everyone else. Sometimes…rarely in my experience… you have to be the best.

For example, when I was at Branch and I did technical deep dives with customers, it was okay to ad-lib, wing it, or throw a presentation together last minute, so long as it was better than 90% of the competitors, which, candidly, was pretty easy if you were a salesperson worth her or his chalk. One time, though, we got a direct introduction to the entire executive team of a huge customer. The deal was worth a quarter million dollars, and so our co-founder and I blew it out of the park. We went full-scale A+ HAM on that presentation because we wanted to be #1 without a fraction of doubt. We identified and chose to be perfectionists.

The punchline is you have to pick and choose when to be the absolute best. And in between, you should optimize, be efficient, and satisfice.

I’m sure some folks will disagree and say “No no! Being a core expert, A+ player in one thing is the way to go!” I’m also sure people have built careers this way by being experts in one narrow domain. This may be true, but it’s simply not where I see the world going.

The reality is that every org and discipline is now calling on cross functional skills. The best marketers I’ve met are also developers and salespeople. The best salespeople are actually product experts in disguise, who can program as easily as they can wax lyrical.

People who think they can be the best at everything all the time are either young, delusional, liars, or doomed for narrow boring careers.

If you’ve stayed with me until now, you’re train of though probably wondering, “… that’s great and all, but how can I satisfice?” and “…what are the tools to help me shave time off my day and execute?” As important as understanding satisficing are the tools that will allow you to do so.

Below is a list of my favorite technologies that help me satisfice. Later this month, I’ll break each one down and give some explanation of how to setup and use them all in conjunction to execute. Yes, they are listed in order of how much they will help you execute.

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