I recently read a book by Barry Schwartz titled “The Paradox of Choice”. Part of the book is about the purchasing philosophies of American consumers. In his book, Schwartz classed purchasers into two distinctive personality types: maximizers and sufficers. Schwartz was careful to note that this distinction represents a spectrum, not two discrete categories and most of us will fall somewhere between the two extremes and in different places depending on what is being purchased. To me it was interesting reading and seemed consistent with my casual observations.
According to Schwartz, maximizers are people who, having decided on making a purchase will spend large amounts of time researching as many options as they can. Maximizers actively invest time and effort into learning as much about the variations, advantages, and weaknesses of an item as possible. When their decision is final and the purchase is made, they then internally compare their purchase to those made by people around them and frequently suffer “buyer’s remorse” feeling that their choice may not be “the best” and that perhaps they could have looked further and harder to find a more perfect item.
Sufficers, on the other hand, are those who are satisfied when an item being considered for purchase meets the criteria they have in mind. With these criteria met, no further looking is needed and is generally viewed as a waste of time. For example, a sufficer purchasing office supplies will not go to several stores to compare paper, or staplers, or paper shredders or desk lamps. A sufficer will be satisfied if the paper is white and strong enough, that the stapler will staple, that the shredder will shred and that the desk lamp will provide illumination. No further looking is needed once these criteria are met.
I see these personalities in play on several of the lightweight backpacking sites that I visit. This site (Backpacking Lightweight) seems to attract folks who seem to be somewhere in the middle of the gradient between maximizing and sufficing. On the other hand, the Backpacking Light forum seems to me to draw more of those who are nearer to, or obsessively at, the maximizer end of the scale. It may just be me but threads on that site are heavy with “What is the best (fill in blank)” threads. Passionate arguments will often break out over what are, to me, relatively trivial differences between, say, packs or wind shirts or light knives or water filters.
I like to think that I gravitate towards the sufficer end of the spectrum. I don’t like shopping or researching purchases, I have no fashion sense (and no interest in gaining one) and I have relatively little interest in pursuing evolving technology. I prefer items with which I am familiar, made of tested materials using familiar technology. Yet, I am neither a Luddite nor an early adopter of technology. And, I do find myself drawn to some of the more recent stuff such as Cuben fiber. But, I would much prefer to let others pay to work the bugs out of a product before I jump in. Finally, I like to make as much of my own gear as is economically possible.
What about you? Where do you feel that you fit in this hypothesis? Are you a maximizer, a sufficer or somewhere between? Do you favor cutting-edge stuff over time-tested technology or do you feel that your Army surplus stuff is good enough for you. I’ll be interested in hearing your opinions.
I am definitely a maximizer, but I include price in my maximization algorithm. That is why I like the view people have here. I think sufficers will often say this is good enough and a third of the price, which to me may be a maximization point.
Loc: Portland, OR
I rarely think of the purchase of any item as my goal, but only as a means to reach some part of my goal. For that reason I evaluate the success of a purchase within the framework of my larger goals, like health, security or happiness. I think this attitude probably puts me much further toward the suffice end of the spectrum.
Definitely on the sufficers side. My wife gets upset with me when I go to look for something like a new pair of pants. I go into the first store and they have them in my size in black, blue and brown. My wife want to go to more stores but I maintain that they have every possible variation that I need and there is no need to continue shopping. If the first store only has pink and plaid I will then continue to the next store.
Golfers everywhere want to know where that first store is!
I tend to fall midway on the spectrum. I was a gear geek for 5-10 years, and would tend to buy whatever looked interesting, without a great deal of research. Then I’d take it out on a trip, and decide if it did what I needed it to do; if it didn’t I replaced it. (A lot.)
At the end, i.e. now, I have what comes pretty close to an ideal set of gear for my needs (emphasis: for MY needs.)
So, if you count lots of purchases that ended up in other people’s packs as “research”, then there’s a bit of maximizer in me - offset by the sufficer’s idea that, once I find what works for me, I’m done.
By the way, I buy pants and shirts the same way you do. Drives my wife nuts, too. (But that’s just a little bonus.)
Pretty interesting stuff. I'm reminded of Robert Pursig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and the follow-up years later, "Lila." If by chance you haven't read (and re-read) these, get to it
I'm somewhat of a maximizer depending on my level of interest. I'm interested in backpacking gear, so I'll do research and experiment and probably spend some money foolishly, but that's part of the fun. At some point, the gear can become an end in itself rather than just a tool, but even that's not necessarily "bad," just something to be aware of.
If I'm not particularly interested, I'm a sufficer. If I need a new toaster (and I do) I'll likely just go to a big box store and get one that seems OK and doesn't cost too much.
It's changeable, too. My background is in electronics (I went to USC - Uncle Sam's College) and this caused me at one point to be thrust into the role of "computer guy" on a particular job. Of course, I knew almost nothing about computers, so I had to learn quickly. I became interested and spent countless hours building and configuring computers (remember OS/2 and NextStep?) Now, I couldn't care less. I'm hoping my old laptop will last forever so I won't have to mess with setting up a new one (not to mention buying one). This is real interesting if you happen to be me
I think, though, that us part-time maximizers would do well to develop a Shock-Proof Crap Detector to alert us when we've drifted into absurdity. It's just setting the threshold that's the problem...
Always remember that you are absolutely unique, just like everybody else. -Margaret Mead
I teach this somewhat differently, because these behaviors vary strikngly depending on what is being purchased.
I begin with asking various students to tell me about their cars: what do they drive, do they like it, did they get a good deal....it becomes clear after a few students that almost everyone likes their car a lot and everyone got a good deal on their car. How is this possible? I ask.
Then I ask them about toilet paper...turns out that people don't remember buying it, and just buy whatever seems like a good deal at the time, frequently buying generic or house brands. Nobody talks about how much they like the toilet paper.
Finally, I ask about the most important piece of jewelry or art they have purchased--often an engagement ring. Turns out nobody cares about getting a great deal on an engagement ring...because theyre buying more than just a rock and a band of metal.
Depending on what we buy, we fall into different categories.
For real fun, I should post my lecture on how much a small cardboard box is worth. If it's that tiny blue box you get when you buy something from Tiffany & Co., that 2 inch cardboard cube costs about $2500. And it's worth every penny to many people...