‘Satisfice’: Money can’t buy everything

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

“LAZINESS may appear attractive, but work gives satisfaction,” says my wife, who emulates Anne Frank, author of “The Diary of a Young Girl” (1947) of wartime fame.  But Bonnie was referring to do-nothing politicians and inefficient bureaucrats. Just like her, I will admit to a serious prejudice against the laziness of those in government who can’t simply do what is expected of them – like enforcing basic traffic rules, with the general public tolerating it because they don’t want to start a civil war.

This brings us to our buzzword for today – “satisfice.” The term is a combination of two words, “satisfy” and “suffice” – referring to man’s tendency to be satisfied because we lack the intellectual ability to discover and maximize the best possible results – like pushing our bureaucrats to do their best.  Satisfice was popularized by Herbert A. Simon in 1956 but the concept was first introduced in a book he wrote in 1947 entitled “Administrative Behavior.”

Simon used the “satisfice” principle to explain the behavior of managers in different circumstances in which the best possible solution cannot be determined at the time the problem or opportunity happened. That’s why people and organizations resort to Band-Aid™ solutions to minimize the adverse effects of a difficult situation.

I use “satisfice” to explain to my students and seminar participants that satisfaction is bad whenever I talk about my favorite topic – kaizen (continuous improvement). No one has the nerve to oppose the idea. In fact, it brought me to a young man who came to me after our seminar in a Makati hotel. Then we exchanged business cards.


But first, I should explain that business cards are very important among us in the corporate world. It’s not like in government service where the main function of calling cards is that you always have something in your wallet that you can give to your favorite guest relations officer in a night club.

While I was holding his card, the young man looked into my tired eyes and engaged me in clear business English. He seemed to understand where I was coming from. After giving his elevator pitch (58 seconds), which is a long time when you’re like me who’s always in a hurry to meet the next business opportunity, I replied with two tough questions that floored him: “Why are you disturbing me? Are you a spy of a competitor?”

No, I’m joking. Fortunately it did not happen that way. I don’t have the nerve to say such things. I was thinking that if I were to be brutally frank to a young man who had no other career plan but to latch on to me, who am I but to give him an ear, at for a moment or two.

So, anyway, he wanted to apply as an employee in my consultancy. He appeared decent and professional-looking. Said he was working for a bank. He was wearing a freshly-pressed white barong, always smiling, filled with contagious enthusiasm, and clearly capable of beating Francis Kong in the inspirational seminar business category.

He wanted me to tutor him. I asked him: “But, isn’t it that you have a well-paying job now?” I don’t mean to single out the banking industry. Lots of our banks now, especially the big ones owned by taipans, have a way of making their employees feel that they rank in the overall corporate hierarchy only an inch above the earthworm.

The young man was a graduate of an exclusive school and yet he wanted to work for me. He claimed that his boss was not giving him the right work challenges. He was congenial enough but was determined to pursue a job in my consultancy, except that I did not have any vacancy at the time. I did not know how to get rid of him.
Subtlety and protocol are part of my character, which is one reason why brusque people hate me.

I certainly felt compassion for the young man, who looked like my youngest son. I asked him: “But why can’t you seek a job transfer within the bank?”

He replied: “Sir, to be honest, I’m not satisfied working for that bank. It’s not the money, but the chance to learn many things elsewhere.” I was tempted to ask, “Why can’t you seek other challenging jobs in another major organization?” I did not know how we could understand each other. He was clinging to me like an orphan.

Now I know. Life is simple, but there are some people who can make it complicated because we’re not satisfied by material things. And we cannot blame them. After all, money is not everything, except that you need tons of money to hire consultants to tell you why it’s not important.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant trying his hand in humor writing. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts on Elbonomics.

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