Herbert A. Simon – complete biography

Who is Herbert A. Simon?

Herbert Simon was an American economist, computer scientist, social scientist, and cognitive psychologist, whose primary research interest was decision-making within organizations and is best known for the theory of “bounded rationality” and the theory of “satisficing”. He applied psychology to statistics, operations, and decision-making scenarios to help define the process that people go through when formulating solutions to problems.

Early Life

Herbert Simon was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 15th, 1916. He went to the Milwaukee public school system where he focused on science. He then attended the University of Chicago in 1933 where he continued his study of social science and mathematics. Herbert Simon earned both his B.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago.

Career

Herbert Simon spent the bulk of his career as a faculty member at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He spent fifty years of his life, from 1949 through 2001, as a social scientist and professor of administration, psychology, and computer science.

What is Herbert Simon known for?

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is the theory that rationality is limited when people make decisions. There is an attention economy that limits the amount of focus someone has to spend on a particular situation. It is a human decision-making process in which we attempt to satisfice, rather than optimize. In other words, we seek a decision that will be good enough rather than the best possible decision.

People tend to choose the first option that works based on their feelings and perceived facts. Perfectly logical and rational decision-making is not feasible due to constraints on time, information, and focus. This type of decision-making can save time which then allows for more decisions to be made in a shorter period of time, but regularly choosing the first option that’s just barely good enough can produce negative outcomes over time.

Satisficing

Herbert Simon coined the term Satisficing. It is a combination of “satisfy” and “suffice”. It is a decision-making strategy linked to bounded reality that involves searching through your various available options until you find a solution that meets your needs. It is rarely the best option, but as long as it satisfies the criteria of the situation in a sufficient enough way then you no longer need to search for a solution.

Obviously, it would be advantageous to always find the best solution to every situation, but that’s not how the human mind works in decision-making theory. Satisficing is basically searching for the first solution that solves the problem adequately.

Herbert A. Simon: Marriage, Children, and Personal Life

Marriage

Herbert Simon married Dorothea Pye in 1938. They remained married for the rest of Herbert’s life which ended in 2001.

Children

Herbert Simon had three children with his wife Dorothea. They were named Katherine, Peter, and Barbara.

Herbert A. Simon: Awards and Achievements

1978 Nobel Prize in Economics

Herbert Simon won his Nobel prize on October 16th, 1978 for his pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations.

1993 APA’s Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology

On August 20th, 1993 Herbert Simon was awarded the APA’s Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology due to his academic history and the facts of his research. Specifically, he was awarded the Nobel prize for economics, made outstanding contributions to organizational theory, the cognitive character of the decision-making process, and the computer metaphor of rational thinking.

Herbert A. Simon
A chart that is used to illustrate Simon’s 3 stages in Decision Making.

Herbert A. Simon Published Works and Books

Herbert Simon has had several books and articles published. His first book was titled “Administrative Behavior: a Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Organization”, and his most popular book was called “Human Problem Solving”.

Administrative Behavior: a Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Organization

Herbert Simon published “Administrative Behavior: a Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Organization” in 1947. It was largely based on his doctoral thesis.

Human Problem Solving

Herbert Simon wrote “Human Problem Solving” with co-author Allen Newell in 1972. This book develops and defends the authors’ information processing theory of human reasoning. Human reasoners, they argue, can be modeled as symbolic “information processing systems” (IPSs), abstracted entirely from physiological bases.

Herbert A. Simon Quotes

Herbert Simon has several quotes attributed to him. These quotes mostly cover his work in decision-making theory or mathematics.

  • “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”
  • “Human beings, viewed as behaving systems, are quite simple. The apparent complexity of our behavior over time is largely a reflection of the complexity of the environment in which we find ourselves.”
  • “Whereas economic man maximises, selects the best alternative from among all those available to him, his cousin, administrative man, satisfices, looks for a course of action that is satisfactory or ‘good enough.”
  • “Most of us really aren’t horribly unique. There are 6 billion of us. Put ’em all in one room and very few would stand out as individuals. So maybe we ought to think of worth in terms of our ability to get along as a part of nature, rather than being the lords over nature.”

Herbert A. Simon – complete biography FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Who is Herbert A. Simon?

Herbert A. Simon was an American economist, computer scientist, social scientist, and cognitive psychologist, whose primary research interest was decision-making within organizations and is best known for the theories of “bounded rationality” and “satisficing”.

What is the Herbert A Simon approach?

Herbert Simon’s approach to decision-making recognized multiple factors to the process rather than the classic model which only looked at problem-solving economically. Herbert Simon had three stages of rational decision-making. The first step is intelligence gathering. The person making the decision is to search the environment for a condition that is calling for a decision. The second stage is to design possible courses of action. The decision-maker needs to invent, develop, and analyze these options. The third and final step is to choose one of these options. Economically, it would be best to look at all possible alternatives and then choose the best option. Administratively, the first functional solution is selected. The motivation of the decision to pick the first viable solution is more complex than simply finding the best option for any decision. Finding the best option spends time and attention to resources that are scarce. If the importance of the decision is high enough then more resources will be allocated to that choice, but most decisions do not meet that threshold. The more mundane the decision, the more likely someone is to select the first reasonable alternative. They are also more likely to rely on feeling than on facts, statistics, or logical decision-making operations.

What is Herbert A Simon known for?

Herbert Simon is known for his contribution to the fields of economics, social sciences, statistics, operations, mathematics, and psychology. He has several books and articles published to support his theories and facts.

What did Herbert Simon contribute to psychology?

Herbert Simon focused on decision-making theory. He used psychology to understand the limited attention economy people have when making decisions. The attention economy is in reference to the amount of focus any person is willing to extend on a particular task.

Did Herbert Simon win the Nobel Prize?

Herbert Simon won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics “for his pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations”.

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