Analysis Paralysis: How to Avoid Overthinking Business Decisions

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In almost any life facet, including business, I can reason out of every possible decision. Call it a self psych out. Who needs enemies when your own brain can lead you astray?

At least I have company.

Although I often feel like I can address business decisions with greater expediency than I can personal-life decisions (which may say something tragic about how I spend my time and energy, but I digress), I’ve seen many a business associate suffer from what I call “analysis paralysis,” a state in which he so intensely analyzes every possible decision that he makes no decision—causing stalls and failures that action would have prevented.

True for hiring decisions, capital-expenditure purchases, key messages, business acquisitions, talent management—and the list goes on.

Not that taking quick action always makes for the best decisions, either. Rashness rarely does.

How do you find the balance between making a well-reasoned decision and analysis paralysis?

A few tips from my personal experience:

  • Read Decisive by the Heath brothers, which I mentioned in my post on bad advice. I particularly liked their recommendations to “ooch” by taking a small step toward the bigger decision and seeing how it goes before making a final, much more disruptive determination; to consider how you’d advise a friend in the same situation; and to think forward a few years and ponder what decision looks best from a future perspective—in other words, what would you regret not doing today when looking back on it a few years from now?

  • Talk or write it out. I analyze and often uncover my perspectives through writing. (Surprise surprise, faithful blog readers.) Some people need to talk it through with someone else, even if that person mainly listens. Reasoning through a complex situation in a “presentation” style, whether written or spoken, forces you to think through the decision from multiple angles and answer questions you might not consider otherwise. In the process, you’ll often find the right decision obvious. Some people hire executive coaches simply to have confidential sounding boards. Some just have great, trusted friends.

  • Walk or ride a bike. Gentle, meditative exercise—especially when done outside in nature—helps you think through challenges. Anaerobic workouts, while fantastic and energizing and healthful and necessary, focus you so intensely on pushing yourself and surviving the experience that you can’t truly think through any decision calmly and rationally—not even what you’d like to have for lunch.

I’m sure others have additional suggestions for taking a step, any step. Let’s hear ‘em.

What do you do to avoid analysis paralysis and make challenging decisions?