When suboptimal is superoptimal

Academics usually do not fly first class unless there is a strange
reason. In my case today there was – the airline messed up and I
found myself in seat 1A coming back across the country from
Massachusetts to California, a route I have flown more than 50 times
in my life before, but never in first class; but I digress.

Sitting up in the front usually comprises a return to infancy. You
sleep, go to the toilet, and generally get fed (which mimics closely
my first 12 months of life). So here is the strange thing – when the
purser began asking me which of the various meals I would like for
dinner, I just took the first one, even before he completed telling me
what they all were. The first option was something I liked, and I just
took it, passing up the chance at something better. When he asked me –
“Don’t you want to know what else there is?” – I simply said “no.”
I was happy, content. I enjoyed this meal more than any other on a
flight, I had gotten exactly what I wanted, no choice costs and no
opportunity costs. Why don’t we always make decisions this way?

(a) By stopping at the first acceptable choice, we have low choice
costs, for we do not have to choose between many alternatives, just
one at a time. Thats easy.

(b) By not knowing the other options, there are no opportunity costs,
no regrets. Just satisfaction.

You know, this works for me. I just realized that I am not an
optimizer. Nor am I a satisficer. Maybe I am just easy to please. Are
all people that are easy to please likely to make decisions in this
way? Who knows? Its not bad being a simpleton. We like making choices
by Dutch auction.

Now what if that first option was clearly below a threshold? Then just
move on to the next one. Take it one at a time. If the chance of the
option being acceptable (not optimal) is 50 percent, then there is a
very small chance that you need to look beyond 4 choices. You may not
reach the optimal, but you will surely be happy. Which is often not
what we are when we have made the best choice.

In a word, just make a good choice, and stop worrying about making the
best one.


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