Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Getting the best and the most

Someone asked me today, "Would you say you guys are the best at what you do?" We laughed and said of course that's what we would say. In truth, however, we would not say that unprompted because it's not the sort of proposition that serves us well.

I've been thinking about a similar concept as I begin to daydream about our family trip to Tuscany next spring. Because I am the mom in the family, I call this daydreaming "planning" and do it with guide books and file cards. I am tempted to say that I am preparing to "make the most" of the trip. Instead, I say that I am preparing to have an exciting and fun trip in which each of us picks the things we want to be part of the experience.

Like "the best", "the most" is a proposition that cannot lead to satisfaction. In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz separates "maximizers" who need to make the best choice from "satisficers" who need to make choices that satisfy their criteria. Satisficers do not need to check every alternative in order to find the "best" one; they need to find one choice that meets their criteria, however high those criteria are. When they make a choice, they do not have to worry that they have missed something; they have what they want.

What difference does it make if we are the best? We need to be great and growing and we need to provide training that allows our clients to feel great and to grow. We need to learn and stretch our models. None of this depends on what other people are doing. It is not enough to be the best of a bad lot, and there is no shame in being less than the best of an amazing field of excellent competitors.

How would I know if I got the most out of my holiday? Would I have to imaginatively test out the millions of possibilities in order to prove that the one I chose was the best? That sounds exhausting. I'd much rather spend the time finding interesting places to sample gelato or pizza. Or learning to cook, Tuscan-style, so that I can enjoy the meals there before they happen and after I get back.

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