Suboptimal Outcomes Get a Bad Rap | SAFETY DOC PODCAST #91 [Podcast]

(PODCAST) An optimal decision is a decision that leads to at least as good a known or expected outcome as all other available decision options. It is an important concept in decision theory. So, by deduction, a suboptimal outcome wouldn’t be “lesser than” an optimal outcome – but Dr. Perrodin questions the long-held belief that suboptimal outcomes are mistakes.

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We need to understand how this conflates with decision making, as when we are talking about suboptimal outcomes, we are also recognizing that suboptimal decisions were made to arrive that suboptimal outcomes. This infers that the decision-making process could be tuned, and perhaps that is true, but perhaps the suboptimal decisions were quite brilliant in the presented context and situation.  Remember, all decisions are laminated to time, context and situation. Any study will frame sub-optimal choice from the deficit perspective. Whether it is the “paradox” of suboptimal choice or solving the problem of suboptimal choice.


Dr. Perrodin argues that the way suboptimal outcomes are portrayed primes people for a single, convergent, universally-acceptable solution. In other words, the false premise that there is only one correct way to do something.


Advertising attempts to convince us that an optimal outcome, such as owning a functional economic vehicle, is actually a suboptimal outcome as the driver could be behind the wheel of an expensive luxury vehicle – which would deliver the identical optimal outcome of conveying him from one location to another. This myth of stacking optimal outcomes is vanity.


Dr. Perrodin gives examples of when linear thinking and assuming there is a direct path to an optimal outcome can degrade a school safety situation. For example, if an evacuation route is blocked during a fire drill, staff and students will need to evaluate “suboptimal” alternatives that will eventually liberate them from the building. Another example would be an evacuation rally site that needs to be moved further away from the school due to circumstances that convinced responders to expand the perimeter around the incident zone. If you are unable to process suboptimal alternatives, you will be unable to incrementally move yourself toward safety.


Looking for Dr. Timothy Ludwig, PhD?

Dr. Perrodin’s “Safety Doc Podcast” negotiates school and community safety. To be informed about industrial safety, please contact Appalachian State University Professor Dr. Timothy Ludwig, PhD, at


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