The HeadScratcher Post Archive
August 2010
Analysis Paralysis
       August 2010 The Headscratcher Post Headscratchers LLC    Edition 64

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Analysis Paralysis

Analysis Paralysis is a term usually used when a decision isn't occurring and someone continues to ask question after question after question, analyzing and analyzing, to the point that nothing gets decided.   People equate this with, "maybe we are thinking too much".   On the contrary, Analysis Paralysis isn't caused by thinking too much, but by not thinking clearly, and specifically, by not thinking critically.

Decisions can take a long time, not because the decision maker is asking too many questions, but because the decision maker is unclear as to the criteria to be used to make the decision.   Since they are not clear about what the variables or parameters are regarding the issue, they meander to develop this, coming up with new criteria on the fly.  They can't decide because they don't have a clear understanding of the criteria to decide with.

Sometimes, the decision maker does has criteria, but doesn't communicate what there are.  For example,"when sales hit our 85% goal for three months in a row, we will add staff".    If this "condition", i.e. criterion, isn't communicated, then those waiting for a decision do not understand why it takes so long.

Establishing decision criteria is sometimes a difficult and tedious chore, especially with complicated decisions that have many interdependencies and consequences.   However, eventually the decision maker does have criteria and makes a decision. 

The "critical thinking" piece here is to perform the thinking about criteria at the beginning of thinking about a decision, as opposed to over the life of a decision.  This can save a tremendous amount of time, and reduce the frustration of uncertainty in others.

The Takeaway: Decisions happen faster, and are more likely to be the right ones, when some good quality thinking is performed earlier on regarding the criteria that will be used to make a decision.  Once created, communicating the criteria is key to eliminating the perception of Analysis Paralysis.

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