Home > 25 Lessons > Work-life Lessons 6: Paralysis of Analysis

Work-life Lessons 6: Paralysis of Analysis


in collaboration with Ira Fialkow and Ivy Remoreras

It is better to do something and learn from mistakes than live the inertia of paralysis of analysis. – Ira Fialkow

It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to do a series of extensive analyses before making a decision. You forget to directionally see the action that you want to take because you are too focused on the analysis. Others are just afraid of making mistakes and face the embarrassment that may come with it. Some simply over-analyze because they aspire things to be perfect and expect to do everything right.

Let’s start this lesson with a very simple premise— Mistakes are not only the result of simply not thinking before doing or doing things by impulse, but are also often the byproduct of serious analytic thinking about the right course of action.  Yes, logically you would reduce the likelihood of mistakes or failure if you subject your idea to a series of analyses. That is perfectly fine and most of the time—if you want to make not only the right decision but also better decisions, you have to use analytics; it is what is expected and proper in the business environment to mitigate risk. However, you have to also caution yourself from going into “paralysis of analysis.” You could end up doing nothing. We live in a fast-paced and ultra competitive world. Sometimes, when you are a step slower in making things happen, opportunity passes you by. Over-analysis is a common cause that slows people down when it comes to making things happen or taking actions. In some extreme cases, it confines them to a cycle of continuous analysis and internal debates about the assumptions used in the analysis. This results in the actual output of the analysis being the focus rather than the action to be taken certainly, doing the right amount of analysis is important, but balancing it with action guarantees results.

Enjoy the Fun of Failure

Most people have used those little self-stick notepapers more commonly known as Post-it notes. But few know that this very successful 3M product was not a planned innovation. It did not come from a group who researched, got the idea, and followed an organized process of product development. Spencer Silver from 3M was trying to develop a strong adhesive in the 3M research laboratories in the 1970s. Silver successfully developed a new adhesive but it was weaker than what 3M already had in the market. The adhesive was weak; it stuck to objects, but could easily be lifted off. From the point of view of product development given the original specifications, the exercise was a failure; but Silver did not discard it. Four years later, Arthur Fry (another 3M employee) was using paper as a bookmarker, but it kept falling out. Fry remembered Silver’s adhesive and he used it to coat the markers. With the weak adhesive, the markers stayed in place, yet lifted off without damaging the pages. Today, these sticky notes are one of the most popular office products available.

The Post-it case exemplifies a culture in 3M that encourages employees to create new products and take action without fear of failure. Spencer Silver failed to develop the product he originally intended. This failure or unexpected outcome created a better opportunity for the right kind of invention that happened years later. You want people to be willing to take action. It’s better to “do something” and learn from mistakes than live in the inertia of paralysis of analysis. “Doing something” means start making something happen. “Just Do It”, as the famous Nike brand tagline advocates. Failure doesn’t always lead to success, like in the case of the invention of Post-it — but you can’t succeed if you are not willing to fail.

Increasing Innovation Speed

Speed is an attribute that companies need in today’s competitive business environment. A company’s ability to innovate is a direct driver of its capability to increase revenue and economic value. Leaders can increase innovation speed by changing the culture associated with making mistakes. Companies have to create an organizational culture whereby mistakes are seen as an inevitable part of innovation and learning. Increasing innovation speed means faster product development — to be in the marketplace first with the goods and services customers want as well as to constantly innovate with new services and features that give the customers what they desire. Another kind of speed is the speed of processing everything through the organization. This means having end-to-end processes superior than those of competitors that translate to excellent customer services. Google exemplifies this today by allowing employees to spend up to 20% of their work time in personal projects related to the company’s business. Several of Google’s successful services were created by employees in their personal project work time—Gmail and Adsense for example. If you are going to innovate, you have to be willing to listen, make mistakes, and try new things. Innovation speed is the kind of speed that can only be achieved by making things happen with a bias to action, not by being afraid of failure.

Work-life Lesson 6 Takeaways:

  • Mistakes are not only the result of simply not thinking before doing, but are also often the byproduct of serious analytic thinking about the right course of action.
  • Failure doesn’t always lead to success, such as the invention of Post-it — but you can’t succeed if you are not willing to fail.
  • Companies have to create an organizational culture where making mistakes is seen as an inevitable part of innovation and learning.
  • Innovation speed is the kind of speed which can only be achieved by making things happen with a bias to action, not by being afraid of failure.

Link to Previous Lesson:  Understand the Skills and Abilities that Differentiate You From everyone Else. Whenever You Have an Opportunity, Use Them.

Photo by Maple

 

 

 

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  1. October 17, 2011 at 6:39 am

    Excellent words of wisdom, Glenn! I think this post is especially important to the IT community. I often find that IT folk (for very good historical reasons, as they nurtured business-IT maturity from low levels to a more tolerable mid-level) have so perfected the “don’t let bad things happen” doctrine, that making “good things happen” in an IT organization is very tough to do! The hard-won battle for stability and predictability can virtually freeze out any type of change – no matter how valuable that change might be. People put all their energies into preventing change from happening.

    The good news coming out of these habits – stability and predictability is preserved. The bad news – the organization cannot innovate, growth is stifled and people just about give up on trying to change things around them!

  2. Ken
    October 17, 2011 at 8:39 am

    Great write up here Glenn!

    I have been thinking about this topic a lot recently. To play the devils advocate here, a question for you and your audience. How can an enterprise IT Organization, which operates under the “don’t let bad things happen” (well put Mr. Merlyn) mantra, begin to re-evolve to accept higher risks for more innovative potential? Talk to any operational leader, and they will long remember the impact of an extended system outage or failed upgrade. Failures can wreak havoc on the underlying entity, scarring the reputation of the solution provider (Look at RIM), and thus pushing IT leadership to a “I must justify my existence” mindset, which is suffocating in itself. What I see as challenging here is justifying of the risk & cost of innovative leadership in most IT depts, as they reach a more mature relationship with Operations. The mind set of most end users is “if it is not broken, don’t fix it”. As an IT leader, Why would I invest resources to fix something that is not perceived as broken?

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