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Analysis Paralysis: The Struggle is Real

Analysis paralysis is "the unhealthy obsession with numbers, analysis, and reports. (Langly, 1995). With big data on the rise and more and more information available at our fingertips, why not gather a bit more information?

Have you ever had analysis paralysis?

The genuine fear that you need to keep gathering information to be able to make a sound decision despite the fact that you have data oozing off your desk? Maybe it is time to manage the data a bit better and utilize the data that you already have at your fingertips. Colin Powell once said, "Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut."

I am not sure that I fully agree with going with your gut considering how much peer-reviewed research is accessible online and how many analytical tools are available to synthesize, examine, and scrutinize your data; however, what I am sure of is that if you wait until you have ALL of the information, so that you feel 100% confident that there is no way you can fail, you already have.

How do you know if you have entered analysis paralysis?

Have you passed the time frame for solving the problem or presenting the opportunity? Have you gathered and accrued so much data that there is no possible way to sift through the data to answer your question? Are you caught on a small minute detail that in reality has no final bearing on the research question? Are you unable to make a decision despite having sufficient evidence to do so (Kuriena, Pailab, & Nagendrac, 2014)? If you answered "yes" to any of these, you might be caught in analysis paralysis. Fear not. There is a cure.

How do you prevent analysis paralysis?

Identify the problem or opportunity and specific question you are seeking to resolve, limiting the number of rabbit holes that you go down, Alice. "Curiosity killed the Kat, and satisfaction brought her back" is a motto that I have lived by, but in this situation, you have to let curiosity take a backseat to the specific issue at hand. Ask yourself, does this research answer this question or is this for further exploration for later. Yes, it is ok to have a few curiosities to ponder on a rainy day but quit the overthinking, overtaxing of your brain power for the sake of gathering as much data as possible. Utilizing helpful worksheets like this one can ensure that the problem or opportunity remains clear.

Model. The model utilized to research a problem or opportunity can make all the difference. A model, implementing evidenced-based decision-making techniques including peer-reviewed rigorous research to supplement the exploration of potential solutions and weighing of alternatives can make all the difference in providing evidence for support or lack of support for specific alternatives. The model can help clarify what you are trying to solve especially when the issue is multi-fold.

How do you avoid analysis paralysis?

Toolbox. A toolbox filled with the right tools for the job can make or break your analysis paralysis; however, just because you have a tool doesn't mean you use it for every issue; the right tool for the right job. Part of avoiding analysis paralysis is identifying what will be a part of the decision criteria. How will you know you have a solution? Does it require analytics? If so, what software would best? What technology is needed? Can it be done better without technology? Does your toolbox need people in it? If it does, who? Now that your toolbox is full of just the right tools, your mental resources will finish the job.

Smarter not Harder. A motto that can be heard everywhere my voice travels and oh boy does my voice travel. Utilizing System 1, the part of the brain responsible for the quick, automatic decisions, we can minimize the amount of mentally demanding processing utilized by System 2, the part of the brain responsible for analytics and deep thinking. Allow the portions of your brain that can make the quick judgments and decisions to function as they should within the 40-70% guidelines referenced. Minimize the analytical uses to solve only the issue instead of burning out this valuable source. Remember, "Curiosity killed the Kat."

Although this isn't an exhaustive look at analysis paralysis, it is an excellent short read to get you gearing up and thinking on how you can identify, prevent, and avoid it for the most productive, practical, and efficient you that you can be.

Langley, A. (1995). "Between 'paralysis by analysis' and 'extinction by instinct'." Sloan Management Review, 36(3), 63. Retrieved from

Rony Kurien et al. ( 2014 )."Application of paralysis analysis syndrome in customer decision making." Procedia Economics and Finance, 11, 323 – 334.

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