Over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation… treating the decision as over-complicated… seeking the ‘optimal’ or ‘perfect’ solution; these are all victims of paralysis by analysis.
Thinking too much or thinking too little can have an enormous impact on the outcome of a decision. For many businesses, decision-making often take one of two directions; either over-analyzing a situation, or forgoing all the relevant information and simply going with their gut. However, in trying to avoid over-thinking a decision for fear of decision paralysis, managers often ‘over-correct’ and end up not thinking enough. According to Michael I. Norton; “one view is that people often make decisions too hastily and if they thought more, they’d make better decisions.
Another view is that people should think more carefully to make better decisions; i.e., in more logical ways, creating decision trees that map out all the ‘what if’ scenarios, making lists of the pros and cons, and so on.” However, there has been little research that considers the notion that over-thinking a decision might actually lead to the wrong outcome. Nor have researchers come up with a model that explores how to determine when we’re over-thinking a decision; even though logic tells us that there certainly is such a thing. Having a leader who considers every detail sounds great in theory, but it can be sub-optimal for moving forward with a decision. There’s a paralysis that can come with thinking too much…
In the article “The Paralysis by Analysis” by Elizabeth Lovegrove writes: Analysis paralysis refers to the human brain’s natural tendency to seize up when confronted with a large number of options, especially when each offers the same cost/reward ratios. The brain has, in effect, no natural tie-breaker. It can happen in situations as simple as trying to buy laundry detergent at the supermarket (so many kinds!)… It’s often called ‘over-thinking a problem’ or being ‘spoiled for choice’, even though there is no real useful thinking going on; your brain is just stuck in an infinite loop, just waffling. Any situation where there are a large number of choices that have similar risks, similar costs, or a large number of options with no clearly superior choice, then this can cause paralysis by analysis. The first and most important step to breaking free from analysis paralysis is to recognize when you are trapped in it.
From inside the paralysis, it is easy to convince yourself that you are just taking your time to construct an ideal plan of attack when in reality you are spinning your wheels hoping to suddenly discover a reason to prefer one of the options set before you. It may feel completely natural to continue-on in the same manner. Don’t fall for it! Analysis paralysis is so insidious because it is what your brain wants to do. It can’t break a tie, so it wobbles around until either the options change or it is forced to make a decision by external pressure. Recognize when you’ve been staring at the problem instead of trying to solve it. Then relax: Make a plan, narrow down your options, then just do it.
In the article “Work-life Lessons: Paralysis by Analysis” by Glenn Remoreras writes: Mistakes are not only the result of simply not thinking before doing or doing things by impulse, but are also often the by-product of serious analytic thinking about the right course of action. Yes, logically you would reduce the likelihood of mistakes or failure if you
subject your idea to a series of analyses: This is expected and proper in order to mitigate risk, in the business environment. However, you have to also caution yourself from going into paralysis by analysis, or you could end up doing nothing. Over-analysis is a common
cause that slows people down when it comes to making things happen or taking actions. In some extreme cases, it confines them to a cycle of continuous analysis and internal debates about the assumptions used in the analysis.
Doing the right amount of analysis is important, but balancing it with action will guarantee results. It’s better to ‘do something’ and learn from mistakes, then live in the inertia of paralysis by analysis. Failure doesn’t always lead to success, but you can’t succeed if you are not willing to fail. Leaders can increase innovation by changing the culture associated with making mistakes. Companies have to create an organizational culture whereby mistakes are seen as an inevitable part of innovation and learning. If you are going to innovate, you must be willing to listen, make mistakes, and try new things. Innovation can only be achieved by making things happen with a bias to action, not by lack of action or decision-making.
In the article “Busting Paralysis by Analysis” by Robert Johnson writes: Successful businesses are the ones that ‘move forward’ with their goals, even if they don’t have it all figured-out yet. They have momentum, and that’s what they strive to keep. They set clear expectations, they manage those expectations, and they minimize risk, but they move forward. They focus on what they want and take actions to obtain it. You can sit and think about it all day, but it won’t get done without action. Things that you can do to bust through the paralysis by analysis:
- Drop the need for perfection: No one is perfect… just strive to be the best.
- Embrace ‘Ready-Fire-Aim’: Take a well-informed shot and see where you’ve missed, then adjust accordingly.
- Establish deadlines: Pursue deadlines with intent and you will usually meet them.
- Adopt the buddy system: Should you find yourself off course, ask for help.
- Make quick decisions: Make a decision quickly then you can take action quickly.
In the article “How to Rid Yourself of Analysis Paralysis” by Theresa Rose writes: We have all found ourselves in the crushing grip of this dreaded condition where we simply can’t make a decision no matter how much we want to get it done. We convince ourselves that we don’t have all the facts, the timing isn’t quite right, something bad will happen if we take action, or we just haven’t conjured up the right solution yet. These feelings of unreadiness and unsteadiness cause us to squander precious time and lose our peace of mind. What is the root cause of this all-too-prevalent mental malaise? It is our own brain. The brain convinces us that we haven’t done enough legwork because of one reason: it doesn’t like the unknown, and it will plant all sorts of ridiculous scenarios in your head in order to keep you from acting; it’s a paralysis of thought.
The most important step to bust through this analysis paralysis is to adopt a trusting Zen-like attitude. Remind yourself that whatever happens is supposed to happen: There are no mistakes, wrong turns, or missed opportunities. If you remember that, in the larger context, everything occurs exactly as it should, then you can cut yourself some slack. Any outcome is far preferable to the physical, mental, and emotional price you pay; when you are perpetually brewing in fear, doubt, and uncertainty…
In the article “From Thinking Too Little to Thinking Too Much: A Continuum of Decision Making” by Michael Norton and Dan Ariely write: We did not set out to tell people whether they’re thinking the right way, but just to get them thinking. In a study by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, social psychologists; they showed that grocery store shoppers who were offered free samples of 24 jam flavors were less likely to buy any jam at all, than those shoppers who sampled only 6 flavors. Apparently, when there are too many options or choices, making the decision to choose one is too difficult. Too often, managers swing to the far-end of the decision-making thinking spectrum, and they don’t think at all.
While all good managers should be able to make snap decisions in high-pressure situations, they may miss-out on good opportunities, when they make quick decisions strictly out-of-habit. Too often, they say; ‘we always do it this way’ is the main reason for a decision. Sometimes when you make habitual decisions, things work out fine, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best decisions. If you’ve done something the same way for a long period of time, it might be time to reconsider and to think a little more. “What we know now is that people sometimes think too much, and sometimes they think too little. But we still don’t know the right amount to think for any given decision, which is a fascinating decision yet to be solved”.
In an article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association by Eldar Shafir and Donald Redelmeier write: Decision paralysis is where options, even good ones, can freeze us and lead us to stay with the ‘default’ plan or ‘no’ plan. This may not be rational behavior, but it is human behavior. Think about the sources of decision paralysis in your organization. Every business must choose among attractive options, e.g., growing revenue versus maximizing profitability, quality versus speed to market… Fold together lots of these tensions, and you have a surefire recipe for paralysis. As ‘Barry Schwartz’ puts it in his book The Paradox of Choice, as we face more and more options; ‘we become overloaded… choice no longer liberates, but debilitates… it might even be said to tyrannize.’ You can see the hidden tyranny of decision paralysis almost every day, and simplicity is the way out…
The human brain is a beautiful thing, and it can produce endless thoughts and scenarios. However, all those ‘what-ifs’ have only one problem; they may not match with the outside reality. While it’s always prudent to carefully consider appropriate ‘next steps’, some businesses get hung up trying to analyze all the events and trends going on around them. They develop a severe case of paralysis by analysis. They spend so much time and effort trying to evaluate the situation that they end up doing nothing. Some businesses view challenges, obstacles, issues, or difficulties exclusively from a ‘past’ point of view and unfortunately, when they do that they’re letting their past dictate their future. Instead of focusing on the negative impact of current conditions, businesses need to look for opportunities presented by the current conditions. They need to look for ways to learn, to grow, and to change… and not become a victim of decision paralysis.
It is better to do something and learn from mistakes, then to live the inertia of paralysis by analysis. ~ Ira Fialkow