Avoiding the rut of analysis paralysis

analysis paralysis
(1) Dr Bryant Orjiako, CEO, Seplat Oil
(2) Abasiama Idaresit, CEO, Wild Fusion Limited
(3) Dr Taiwo Afolabi, CEO, Sifax
(4) Benedict Peters, Vice Chairman, Aiteo Group
(5) Tunde Folawiyo, MD, Yinka Folawiyo Group

The most important advantage of the knowledge age is the ease with which information is accessed. Since the 1990s when the World Wide Web came on stream, the world has been swimming in the ocean of online information. To get the latest information about anything, all you need do is to ‘Google’ it and voila, you are faced with a deluge of information on your screen. Many experts believe this has enhanced leadership performance because rather than spending hours in search of a piece of information, leaders can access same just with a click of a button and make instant decisions. The better a leader’s access to information is, the more effective he gets and the easier it becomes for him to achieve his vision. But the advantage of the current age doubles as its downside; excess information often occasions analysis paralysis.

Analysis paralysis is a consequence of information overload. Information overload is like a mineral deposit, without mining the deposit, you can’t get the mineral. Even after getting the mineral, you still have to polish it to get the gem out of the mass.

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The bulk of information that is accessed cannot be profitably deployed without being processed. Processed information produces knowledge but even knowledge has its limitations because knowledge merely brings awareness and enhances enlightenment, but it is wisdom that produces solution. Wisdom is the apt interpretation of situations and accurate application of knowledge to same. Leaders need wisdom to succeed more than they need knowledge. Those who stop at the point of knowledge acquisition often get stuck in their quest to get solutions. It is the failure to transform data to wisdom that results in analysis paralysis.

Bezos and the rest

Jeff Bezos was propelled into starting an online retail business when he chanced upon a piece of information that the use of internet was growing at the rate of 2,300 per cent annually. He was incredulous and decided to find out more about it. When he was convinced that the information was correct, he started thinking about how it would profit him because, as he said, “things just don’t grow that fast. It’s highly unusual, and that started me thinking about the kind of business that might make sense in the context of that growth.”

He initially generated a list of 20 products which he thought could be sold on the internet but later settled for books “because of their low cost and universal demand.” That marked the commencement of Amazon.com. Due to paucity of funds, he started the business in his garage. The business has since grown beyond book selling to selling virtually everything, and Bezos’ fortune has grown phenomenally to the extent that he is now one of the three richest men in the world.

Bezos struck gold because he was able to transform the information about internet deployment growth rate into wisdom. But he was not the only one who had access to that information. Before he ever came across that piece of information there were companies such as Barnes and Nobles, Powell’s Books, Faulkner House and others in the book-selling business, which also had access to that information but failed to translate it into wisdom. While they were busy analyzing the data, Bezos who had been able to move from data analysis and processing to data utilization, went ahead to transform how the world would henceforth conduct its business through his online book sales. Many of the companies that were stuck in the rut of data analysis almost lost their business to Bezos’ innovation.

Part of the calling of leaders is to make sense out of the data they are daily assailed with. Data is of little use until it is translated into wisdom.

How to avoid analysis paralysis

Pattern recognition

Leaders get sunk into analysis paralysis when they are unable to recognize patterns in the data they accumulate. The term, pattern recognition, is borrowed from the field of artificial intelligence and it refers primarily to the instant identification of regularities and congruence in data collected. To accelerate a leader’s decision making process when faced with a mass of information, he must be at home with pattern recognition, he must be able to recognize similar trends in the information he has amassed and be able to interpret same correctly. It is after similarities in data are identified and recognized that the leader is able to come to a meaningful decision about the data. Those who are unable to recognize patterns are forced into analysis paralysis because they have to turn and twist the data several times instead of moving into data utilisation.

As put by Les McKeown, business leaders with good pattern recognition skills see another dimension to data – like an aviation engineer who can see the wind flow around a wing when we see only a two-dimensional blueprint; the map-maker who can picture the entire landscape while we see only the contours on the page; or the practiced CPA who can diagnose the health of an entire organization while we see only columns of numbers, what they see is more than the sum of the parts.

Pattern recognition requires a leader paying more than a passing attention to information. A leader who does not pay attention to details will be unable to recognize patterns and will very likely find himself stuck to a spot when he ought to make decisions that will propel his organization out of the doldrums.

Fear of failure

One reason some leaders get into the rut of over analysis which results in paralysis is the fear of failure. When a leader dwells too much on analysis instead of getting into action, he falls into procrastination. Because he wants to avoid failing, he tries to ensure that everything is in perfect situation before launching out. Leaders should know that procrastination is not just the thief of time; it is also the murderer of opportunities and the squanderer of resources. Whenever a leader gets into the rut of overanalyzing issues, it should be clear to him that not only is he wasting time, he is also frittering away resources and snuffing life out of opportunities for his organization.

For those who are petrified into inactivity by the fear of failure, General Colin Powell has a counsel: “Don’t take action if you have only enough information to give you less than 40 per cent chance of being right, but don’t wait until you have enough facts to be 100 per cent sure, because then it is always almost too late.”

Oftentimes, those who are bogged down by the fear of failure are those who are bothered by other people’s opinions. Because they do not want to be condemned for taking a wrong decision, they fail to make any move. Those who feed on others’ validation often starve their organizations of the necessary decisions that can help them grow. Those who wait for everything to be in place before they do what they need to do too often wait too long and later find out that what they were waiting for has gone out of place.

Have a clear objective

A major cause of analysis paralysis is foggy objective. Energy and other resources are channeled in the wrong direction when the objective is hazy. A leader should consistently check whether he is doing what he set out to do or he has veered off course so as to guard against paralysis caused by unwarranted over analysis. If a leader finds out that he is spending too much time on an issue and he is dithering rather than being decisive, he should ask himself what he set out to achieve. Answering that question will bring focus into his activities and save him from analysing data that may not be necessary for the mission. The objective cannot be to analyse the data, the objective is to make sense out of the data to proffer a solution. Having this at the back of the mind will help the leader to focus on the core issue rather than building a project around non-essentials.

To avoid time-wasting activities, leaders must always be clear on their objective.

Set a deadline

One of the characteristics of great goals is a clear understanding of the delivery deadline. Any business engagement that lacks a deadline is likely to continue ad infinitum and may lose its relevance. Knowing ahead that the task must be completed at a definite time forces you to cut out all unnecessary activities and focus on the main issue.

Just do it

Though this is Nike’s motto, it should be every leader’s credo. Nobody can build a reputation on intentions; reputations are built on actions. So, instead of wasting precious time on what you intend to do, invest the time on what you are doing. Remember, those who don’t go, don’t get; those who don’t try, don’t win; and those who don’t sow, don’t reap.

Last line

An idea is like a rain, it falls on many people. Those who profit from it are those who are quick to act on it.

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