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Pragmatic, Practical Advice for Professionally-Inclined Incoming Freshmen

By: John Rho

At times this summer, I have wondered: What mindset should students have to optimize their college experience?

Personally, I have encountered many students who worry about making “perfect” decisions. But a less stress-inducing path would be “satisficing,” or searching through the best available options to make a situation “good enough” to achieve a goal — a Nobel Prize-winning concept introduced by economist Herbert A. Simon. Just striving for “good enough” seems simple at an initial glance, but putting it into practice is a different story.

Let’s take a look at a somewhat familiar (although simplified) example. A university lacks a student directory. The university has taken a few years to get around making this system, citing concerns like the difficulty of collecting student information. Instead, one enterprising student builds a rough system within a week, connecting students and showcasing a promising concept. Sound familiar? An execution that is “good enough” can help one get the momentum to get off the ground. Of course, Mark Zuckerberg could have waited to launch until he had every single feature, design, etc. he envisioned ready to go. But instead of letting a sense of perfectionism paralyze him, he made something that was sufficient for new users to get a sense of what could be (in essence, a “minimally viable product”).

Now, not every student wants to build the next Facebook. But in general, how does one determine what is “good enough?” The “20-80” rule, in which 20% of the input produces 80% of the output, explains how giving 100%, contrary to what your teachers, coaches, etc. seem to preach most of the time, is too much. As business psychologist Karen Moloney says, “Perfection is how [hard workers] define themselves and to let anything out of their hands that isn’t 100% goes against their professional pride.” It may be difficult to escape this mindset if it is deeply ingrained, but as the popular saying goes, work smarter and not harder. One must spend time developing an efficient game plan to tackle challenges by delegating non-critical tasks, avoiding multitasking, and keeping distractions away.

Outside of just work, this concept (basically, the Pareto Principle) applies to daily living, too. Say you want to clean your room/dorm. Here are some possible obstacles:

  1. You don’t have the time to clean every single square inch of carpet, desk, closet, etc.

  2. You’ve been putting it off for a long time because of your inner laziness (I can certainly relate).

  3. You hate cleaning.

But you can spend a few minutes thinking about what you could tidy that would make the greatest difference in the least amount of time. Maybe you decide to fold and organize that pile of clothes that has been chilling on your office chair as well as clean up the loose papers that have been sitting on your desk for months. Suddenly, with minimal effort, your room looks cleaner. In decision science, making little changes is how people can overcome hurdles in taking action. After all, the old saying goes, “The first step is always the hardest.”

Altogether, seeking pragmatism over perfectionism makes people more efficient and satisfied. Such is the power of satisficing.



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