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Paralysis by Analysis

It is important not to fall victim to “paralysis by analysis.” Information technology professionals by nature are very analytical and by nature want to analyze everything before taking action. This is clearly important up to a certain point. Sometimes, it is actually beneficial to not see an option and save a tremendous amount of time by not analyzing an option that turns out to be a “rat hole.” As they say “ignorance is bliss.”

More important than avoiding time wasting activities is just having the personal power to make a decision and take action. The joke on these lines is “He won’t take action because that would require a decision.” This problem becomes amplified in larger organizations where there is a culture of zero tolerance for mistakes. Sounds great in theory but when no one is willing to make a decision and take action for fear of making a wrong decision you have “paralysis by analysis.” Everyone starts taking cover on all issues and using CYA as their mantra! There will be meeting after meeting with many planning discussions and meeting notes and maybe even some action items but nothing is really happening.

Being decisive, making decision and then moving forward is absolutely a key for long term success. So how do you handle failure from making the wrong decisions? Mitigate risk and learn from mistakes. Embrace failure! “Fail early, fail often and fail cheap.”

Here is a quote by Charles Bosk, a Sociology Professor at University of Pennsylvania, who spoke with student surgeons and his observation of how they handle mistakes:

“When I interviewed the surgeons who were fired, I used to leave the interview shaking,” Bosk said. “I would hear these horrible stories about what they did wrong, but the thing was that they didn’t know that what they did was wrong. In my interviewing, I began to develop what I thought was an indicator of whether someone was going to be a good surgeon or not. It was a couple of simple questions: Have you ever made a mistake? And, if so, what was your worst mistake? The people who said, ‘Gee, I haven’t really had one,’ or, ‘I’ve had a couple of bad outcomes but they were due to things outside my control’ — invariably those were the worst candidates. And the residents who said, ‘I make mistakes all the time. There was this horrible thing that happened just yesterday and here’s what it was.’ They were the best. They had the ability to rethink everything that they’d done and imagine how they might have done it differently.”