The Conundrum of Paralysis by Analysis

27 Apr

Many years ago in a land far, far away I worked for a boss that suffered from “paralysis by analysis” in her search for “riskless risk.” As the proverbial Knights of the Roundtable, otherwise known as her Executive Team, each week we thrashed our way through the jungle of data, risk assessments, and possible alternative outcomes. Unfortunately, our quests often resulted in a dead-end. Why? Well, no decisions were ever made until the decisions made themselves. In other words, her indecision resulted in the least innovative and risk-free decisions. Additionally, no new results were generated since the “decisions” kept the business static. Her fear of making the wrong decision resulted in a stagnate company allowing others soar passed us.

How does this happen?
Every year or so, the business world identifies buzzwords/phrases that become common colloquialisms in boardrooms and executive offices around the world.

  • This could be a “game changer.”
  • We need to go after the “low hanging fruit.”
  • He’s a real “thought leader.”
  • We want to be “industry leaders.”
  • We need to be “innovative.”
  • We need to “get ahead of the curve.”

While these are great phrases to add into sales and marketing proposals, as well as year-end reports to corporate offices, they all have a couple of things in common. First, they need to be effectively sandwiched between a strategic plan on the front end and measurable goals/metrics on the back-end. Second, everyone around the table needs to accept that there is a certain level of risk and potential failure on the road to success. Identifying and evaluating that risk is the responsibility of managers. Being willing to shoulder an acceptable threshold for risk is the responsibility of a leader. And therein lies the rub.

Paralysis by Analysis
If this term doesn’t sound familiar, then let me explain the symptoms of the disease. The overall company or work group goals have been agreed upon. Then, each member of the team is tasked to research options, alternatives, and projected outcomes. Lastly, the team reassembles for a two-hour meeting and everyone throws his work on the table. The group goes through each scenario upon which discussion and brainstorming ensues for the greater portion of the two hours. With minutes left on the clock, the boss asks for the recommended plan of action. In other words, what decisions should be made based on the previous week’s work and this one hour and forty-five minute meeting?

Have you guessed the punch line? That’s right, no decisions were made. Instead, the topics were sent back to “committees” to explore further options and come back to the group with recommendations. So, the next question is why? Weren’t the options presented viable ones? Didn’t anyone agree with anything that was recommended? In fact, there were several options that could have been approved. Actually, there were an over-abundance of suggestions that could have yielded decisions. So what happened? Quite simply, the fear of making the wrong decision or alienating those on the opposing side of the decision now paralyzed everyone from making any decision.

Riskless Risk
If 2+2 equals 4, then you don’t run a risk of waking up one day to find that 2+2 equals 5. That’s riskless risk. In other words, riskless risk does not exist. Moreover, the best decisions are only deemed successful after they’re made. If you have the ability to look into the future and know that your risky decisions are going to all pay off, then head to Las Vegas and win big! After all, when a smart risk is taken, the joy of success is that much more rewarding. And, if you’re fearful that one wrong decision, no matter how small, will bring down your company/organization, then you’ve built your company/organization on a house of cards.

When you make educated decisions in a timely manner you move your organization along the path to success. Evaluate your threshold for risk and move forward with confidence.

Advertisements

One Response to “The Conundrum of Paralysis by Analysis”

  1. Frank Chiaravalloti April 28, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    Ahhh! Being efficient with our words, my colleagues and I often referred to this management disease as Analysis Paralysis. I often just called it “brain cramping.” This can often be caused by low blood flow, high sugar levels in the blood stream, excessive drinking or, the most common, fear of making a mistake. I find that fear is typically founded in the fact that the BOSS failed to conduct due diligence or market analysis. Riskless risk should be available to these entreprenopes. In fact they should probably be operating monorails at Disney World. However, there’s something to be said for the opposite of Analysis Paralysis, which is commonly known as “Ready, Fire, Aim!” Either practice involves a void in researched and informed decisions and typically ends badly. I recommend starting from a process. Assess the opportunities. Analyze the market. Determine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Conduct scenario planning and be prepared to address any outcome. Plan to succeed, not explode. Analysis Paralysis can be painful; worse than a migraine; more powerful than speeding in laws. Informed decision making followed by deliberate action. Ah! That’s the ticket.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: