Today, I was asked by a young colleague on how I avoid analysis paralysis . It took me down memory lane a bit . After the call, I figured it is a question that others might have as well and hence decided to share some thoughts here.
I am not a big risk taker by nature . I have often thought about the reasons why . My hypothesis is that there are influences from my parents and the managers I had in my formative years , and the academic system that I went through all contributed to me measuring twice or thrice before I cut .
There was a period in my career where I was a poster child for analysis paralysis . I would measure endlessly , toss and turn and lose sleep , and never make any cuts . Looking back, I understand why I was so stressed out . It was the first time that I was given a sales target . I felt the weight of the world was on my shoulders and even for very small deals I would over analyze and delay getting back to the client .
One very rainy day in Oregon, my client and her boss invited me to a coffee meeting and said something like this . “Vijay, we absolutely enjoy working with you on technology topics . You walk us through pros and cons and help us take decisions . But when we ask you for a commercial proposal , you struggle even for small things . What is causing your difficulty ? Why are you not taking the same approach as you do with tech questions ?”.
My clients came from engineering and finance background themselves . They had never sold anything in their lives either . But they gave me the best framing of the problem and almost overnight my problem with analysis paralysis was overcome .
So here is how I approach decision making in four simple steps
1. Gain clarity on my role – who is the best person to make the decision and why ? If it happens to not be me – do I have a role to play in helping that person take a decision ? If I am the decision maker , do I know who else needs to help me make the decision ?
This step helps figure out the minimum number of people required to take the decision and by itself eliminates a lot of paralysis . It is also important to make sure it is the best qualified people . Often we make decisions based on assumptions . People who are not close to the ground reality rarely make good assumptions , and that in turn makes even simple decisions really bad
2. Determine time line and consequence of inaction . How urgent is the decision ? And what will happen if a decision is not made in that time ?
Most decisions are not as urgent as they look upfront. Often we find that someone had padded time in the process and you just happened to be in a part that got squeezed and can negotiate a more realistic time line . Used to an extreme, this could have a negative effect because you just end up procrastinating because you are good at buying time 🙂
3. How important is the decision being right the first time ? Is this something I can change my mind on with minimal trouble if I got it wrong ? Or is it the kind where I absolutely have to nail it or else the consequences are more than I care to live with ?
Decisions that have big impact and are difficult to change – by all means spend the time and effort to get it right . The other kind – it’s often better that any decision is better than no decision . It takes a calm mind to determine which kind of decision we are dealing with when we face the problem for the first time . It’s only human to think most problems are big and important
4. What are the big trade offs ? Am I sweating the small stuff – things that have a low chance of going wrong , and things that could happen but have low impact ?
Here again we need the right people to make that determination . If you end up with the wrong categorization of risks , you will probably make a terrible decision. It’s like the millionth reason to surround yourself with the right people who can look at a problem from diverse perspectives . Once you know the risks and their categories, you can plan to mitigate them .
That’s it ! Just a simple four step process to help get to a good decision . For me a a good decision is one that lets me sleep better at night . I feel confident that there is a high chance that I got it right , and I also feel that in case I didn’t get it right – I know enough to mitigate .