The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article revisiting the notion of maximizing vs. satisficing in decision-making. What’s the difference? Maximizers tend to evaluate all available options – often exhaustively – to pick the very best one, while satisficers tend to choose the option that meets a minimum set of requirements. While we may tend toward one extreme or the other, our decision-making orientation is also likely to depend on the situation (I am a maximizer for many decisions, like for car shopping, but most definitely not for grocery shopping!). In addition, our orientation may shift as we age, and, with shared decision-making, different decision-making styles can interact and potentially complement one another (the article includes several great decision-making anecdotes from married couples whose styles are completely opposite).
With open enrollment for individual and Medicare health insurance around the corner, it’s interesting to consider how these decision-making orientations might influence health insurance shopping (which, in itself can be complicated without the proper support and tools), and how we can make it a little easier for consumers on both ends of the spectrum. Given a natural tendency toward maximizing for more important decisions, many people approach the process of choosing a health plan with more of a maximizing frame of mind, and it’s no surprise that some of them suffer from decision paralysis, especially when you consider the abundance of plans and plan characteristics. At the other end of the spectrum, those who are diehard satisficers risk making a “bad” decision if they choose the wrong criteria on which to base their decision-making (for example, focusing on premium alone).
My advice to both types of decision-makers is to keep it simple and start by focusing on a few key items, such as estimated costs (again, not just the price of a premium, but your total financial exposure), and whether or not your physicians are in-network or your prescriptions are covered. Focusing on some well-defined criteria can help make the decision-making process easier for maximizers (and something to fall back on if they get bogged down in a more exhaustive evaluation). Meanwhile, satisficers will avoid heading down a stressful path by focusing on the wrong things.