Understanding Analysis Paralysis and why you should avoid it

The business world is rife with scenarios as unpredictable as a human mind. Volatile, ambiguous, constantly changing, demanding your time-money-efforts and most of all, thriving on timely decisions. If anything that can make or break a business, that has full potential, it is the decisions that are taken or shirked respectively.

I am reminded of the poem ‘The Centipede’s Dilemma’ attributed to Catherine Caster as part of the book ‘The Pinafore poems’. It says:

A centipede was happy – quite!

Until a toad in fun

Said, “Pray, which leg moves after which?”

This raised her doubts to such a pitch,

She fell exhausted in the ditch

Not knowing how to run.

Though spoken of in a lighter vein, the poem aptly describes the dilemmas of businesses and leaders in taking timely decisions that often result in lost opportunities or worse still, shutting down of businesses altogether. Well, I am fully aware that big decisions require thorough analysis, and that they can’t be done with a toss of a coin. But how long is too long is something one should be aware of from the word go. I often hear people attributing analysis paralysis to the fact that too much is at stake and that taking hasty decisions would sabotage the company’s existence. But then, delaying decisions has not benefited anyone, not in the ever-competitive business world

What exactly is Analysis Paralysis

It is the tendency of companies and leaders to keep over-thinking and analyzing a situation so much and for so long without taking any decision or acting in time, so as to invite upon them lost opportunities. I would like to go a little further and warn you, that a leader’s inability to take decisions in time, is a trait whose reputation reaches ahead even before him. That could prove a hindrance to his career growth as well.

Reasons for Analysis Paralysis

Inability to take timely decisions or actions stems out of several reasons such as:

  1. Not enough data:When companies and leaders confront situations where they are not backed by ‘enough’ data and information, they take time to ponder upon the problem before taking any decision. However, how much data is enough is a debatable question. Sitting over a problem or an opportunity just because everyone is not convinced with the data and information at hand, is like walking on dangerous terrain, for you may fall anytime. At times, one has to decide and act based on whatever optimum data that is available at that given time. Just like acting in haste is futile, acting too late also has its problems. Classic examples of indecision are the cases of Motorola and Kodak who sat over some wonderful patents till competitors brought products in the market and then lost valuable ground.
  2. Desire to bring everybody on board:As they say, you can please some people at some time but you can’t please all the people all the time. Waiting for everyone to come to a unanimous decision will rarely be possible. At times, you have to look at what is in good interests of the company and act in time rather than endlessly wait to win everyone.Do what is right and it always turns out to be good. But it is definitely important to earn the approval of a majority of the people who have a stake in the decision, especially if it’s the board that you’re answerable to. Again, a convincing plan and strategy gets approved quickly.

  3. Fear of failure:Any change comes with the innate possibility of things going wrong or failing altogether. However, that risk stands in any scenario whether in business or in personal life. With proper precautions to mitigate risks, one can overcome the fear of failure before acting or deciding on something. Businesses thrive on the risk factors that come associated with it, however, good leaders are those who preempt risks, mitigate them, have mechanisms in place and ensure that these risks do not impact the whole business as such.
  4. Waiting for the right time:A lot of people believe that they must act at the right time for their actions to have the maximum positive impact. What if there is no ideal ‘right time’ and one has to take the decision soon. Ideal conditions work only in text books and not in real life. When Steve Jobs launched the Ipod, there was no precedent. When Pixar decided to bet heavy on animation films costing millions of dollars, the sector was considered a children’s domain and not for adults. However, they took the decision with conviction and made it right. 

Pitfalls of analysis paralysis- Not acting in time and sitting over decisions definitely have its pitfalls such as:

  1. Lost opportunities: In a world where timing is everything, not acting in time would mean someone else stealing the opportunity and making hay. Even your existing customers may jump ship lured by the competitors.
  2. Losing talent: Especially when you have a talented young and restless workforce, a company that loses time on decisions and actions will be seen as a worthless place. Talented people perceive such companies as not fit for their personal growth as well.
  3. Reduced risk appetite: Delayed decisions and inability to act in time diminish the risk appetite of a company to a large extent. This is not to say that one must always take on risky decisions, but then avoiding risk leads to treading the safe path at other times as well.
  4. Losing the competitive advantage: Markets thrive on innovation and risk. People want new and that new needs to be offered in time for it to work. Companies that lose opportunities also lose the competitive advantage to competitors.

Overcoming Analysis Paralysis

One has to first identify that it is indeed analysis paralysis that is hampering yours or your company’s growth. Once you accept that it is just that, take proactive steps to overcome it.

  1. Break down your tasks into realistic units and abide by them. Delegate as much as possible and hold people accountable for delivery. That reduces your burden
  2. Set timelines for arriving at decisions. When you know you can think only up to a certain time and can’t afford any further, you know it’s time to stop thinking and start acting.
  3. Explore what makes you anxious to take a decision. Is it the fear of failure, is it fear of competition, or losing money? There’s a solution to every fear.
  4. Gather enough data but don’t wait for that perfect time when you have it sufficient. There’s no such thing as enough data when it comes to action.
  5. Trust your instincts which you have to develop based on logic and experience.
  6. Seek professional help. Usually, professionals are better equipped to help you in tricky situations.
  7. Take a break. At times, too much thinking results in mental fatigue. Stop thinking for a while, take a stroll or get into enjoyable pursuits. Many times, relaxing your mind results in those eureka moments.

Having said that, decision making and taking action does require some thinking but not at the cost of losing out on opportunities.

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