Fighting Analysis Paralysis

“Analysis Paralysis” is a common enough term, but what does it mean, and does it affect your team and your results?

As marketers, we’re always searching for the new platform, the new trend, the new perspective—and with media options essentially endless, we can find a niche market everywhere. So much so that we can always be looking, always be evaluating, always calculating the “best time” to make a move. But you can very easily fall into the trap of over-analysing.

Having too many options, too many variables, too many considerations—or too much knowledge of a subject—can actually hinder our decision making ability. We’re so afraid of making the wrong decision (or fear the potential repercussions of a wrong decision) that we obsess over every option, often until the best course of action is either in the past or no longer feasible. Often, that’s when we get brought into a project—when fresh eyes are needed.

This is why constraints can be so helpful.

Since our ultimate goal is to help our clients do more in-house, here are some tips to avoiding analysis paralysis:

1) Communicate your strategy

One of the reasons we can become paralyzed by indecision is because we don't have an overt, written expression of our values and goals. We don't know what to do because we don't know why we're doing it. So we become overwhelmed by options. Michael E. Porter suggests that "one of the most important functions of an explicit, communicated strategy is to guide employees in making choices that arise because of trade-offs in their individual activities and in day-to-day decisions."

Once you have a written communication strategy, making decisions will become easier.

2) Make more decisions

One of the simplest things to do to avoid analysis paralysis is making more decisions more often. Reduce the stakes of each individual decision by giving yourself permission to make it quickly, but change your mind or change course if necessary. You simply can’t know how every situation will turn out, so you need to leave yourself room to maneuver if (or more accurately, when) circumstances change. The feeling of being irrevocably tied to your past decisions is why you’re finding it difficult to make them.

As David C. Baker says, “the two biggest dangers in decision making are not making enough decisions and then not correcting the bad ones.”

One of my favorite quotes from U.S. Grant emphasizes this point: “Anything is better than indecision. We must decide. If I am wrong we shall soon find it out, and can do the other thing. But not to decide wastes both time and money and may ruin everything.”

3) Learn from your past decisions

It’s important that we don’t divorce ourselves from our past decisions; we still want to learn from them. We just want to reduce the individual stakes of each one.

A common mistake is taking lessons from our successes—and trying desperately to repeat them—and ignoring our failures. But lessons from failure are just as important as our successes—a penny saved by not repeating a past mistake is just as good as a penny earned from a good decision.

As Blair Enns says, “The universe rewards action, because action yields information.” By making decisions, failing and succeeding, and thinking about why things worked or didn’t, we get better and better. Each following decision becomes easier because we have the right lessons to learn from.

One last lesson

Often, we make things more complicated than they need to be. Consider abiding by Occam’s Razor; the simple, direct solution may indeed be the correct one, even if it doesn’t seem like we earned the insight with enough struggling.

David C. Baker says, “You are not a leader because you have better insight—you are a leader because you make decisions. There’s a corollary point here, too: Ask around among the people close to the front lines and they’ll usually have the answer! That’s why consultants who interview employees at client engagements look brilliant so early in the process.”

The take-away:

Listen to the people around you—go talk to your front line, talk to your team. Limit the stakes of each decision, and start making more decisions, faster. Learn from each one, correct where necessary, and keep growing. You can do this!