February 29, 2024

Optimized or maximized?


Engineers can optimize a bridge. There are some bridge designs that satisfy aesthetic, financial, durability, safety and efficiency needs better than others. The work of optimization is finding the best set of tradeoffs.

Maximization, on the other hand, seeks the solution that ranks the highest for just one goal.

After it peaked, Yahoo sought to maximize short-term stock price (and the needs of its top executives) instead of optimizing for customer experience, innovation, resilience and utility.

Over time, social networks fade away for similar reasons. They turn users into the product instead of treating them like customers.

Maximizing something is simple and may be satisfying. It doesn’t involve difficult tradeoffs and it’s easy to measure.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.



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