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Paralysis by analysis is something that managers and marketing professionals slip into without realizing. They spend so much time working the numbers that their reliance on the numbers actually slows their business down. Another little saying is that people should fail faster if they wish to succeed. If you are on the management track, you should understand how these two methodologies can interact to help you become a more productive manager, business owner, or marketer.
Side Note: It seems odd that an article about too much analysis would feature on a website that promotes analysis, but that is not what this article is about. Just like an ice-cream store doesn’t want you to get an ice cream headache, this article suggests you do not over-use analysis because it may have the reverse effect and actually slow your success rather than boost it.
Managing a Business or Project
If you are looking to get into the world of management or marketing, then taking a good management course or marketing course will give you a foundation upon which you may build your career. However, experience teaches you the dynamics that keep a business afloat.
Paralysis by analysis happens all the time these days because the “Numbers/metrics” have never been more easily accessible. Not only can you mine massive amounts of information from your own company, websites, social media networks and customers, but you can also get free trending information and buy epic amounts of market data.
Basing decisions on data is a fair idea, but over time, people grind to a halt as they try to reconcile the numbers with what actually happened. The first lesson you should learn is that the numbers do not always explain what happened, and sometimes what happened has no explanation.
There are methods for guarding against paralysis by analysis, such as setting rules on how much can be done before action is taken. Or, by creating more clearly defined analysis goals. However, one sure-fire way to avoid paralysis by analysis is to take a “Failing Faster” route.
Failing Faster Helps You Succeed
The term “Fail Faster” originated in the world of animation. The first few runs at an animated scene often look awful, and since animating is very labour-intensive, these first attempts at a scene can be very costly. That is why it is sometimes better to get it done quick and worry about quality later. You have to assume that what you are working on is going to fail, so you need to prioritize getting it done above all else. Then, when you do succeed, you go back and build quality into your product.
Failing faster can help cure paralysis by analysis. Better still, it can also help you temper your plans so that your failures are not as massive. To put it crudely, it teaches you not to put all your eggs in one basket.
When Jane’s Advertising Went Wrong
Jane sets up a marketing project. She is tasked with making a viral marketing video. It is her first advertising project after graduation and it is fairly well funded, so she hires the very best talent. Storyboards are works of art, scripts are worked over again and again, and each step is market-tested over and over again. She tests, alters, tests and alters so much that eventually, through her own paralysis by analysis, she has to publish because her budget is running dry. Her ad is a flop, despite all market testing efforts showing it should be very successful.
Her problem was that she was working on new ground. She shouldn’t have started so big. She should have spent smaller amounts on smaller test ads that she should have published more quickly, and more cheaply.
She should have measured her responses from them before committing to larger and more professional advertising. Jane needed to fail first, and she needed to fail fast in order to keep her budget intact.
Jack Could Not Optimize His Production Line
A new warehouse was purchased, machinery installed, and a production line was created. Jack was tasked with taking the new batch of staff and achieving a set of production targets. He put people on machines, measured their output, tried tweaking their efforts, measured their output, made changes, measured, and so forth. By the end of the first year, his production line failed to match the others within the company, and Jack was asked to leave.
Jack’s paralysis by analysis was a little more subtle. He had a set idea of how his production line was supposed to function, and he spent all his time trying to optimize it. He couldn’t understand how his measuring and tweaking wasn’t pushing up the production numbers enough. His problem was that he was so stuck on measuring and optimizing, he never shook it up.
He never tried things like group-working the more difficult tasks, in what his replacement later called “Team Hitting a section.” Jack never thought to have people working on one section one day and on another section another day. He never thought to change the order in which things were done, or alter machine settings, or even move the machines around so that staff members were not walking through each other’s sections.
If Jack had tried more of these methods, he would have found some that didn’t work or didn’t make a difference. He would have failed. However, he would have also found methods that worked. Rather than analyzing and optimizing, he should have been trying new things and failing, so that he could eventually succeed once he had mastered the job at hand.
Final Thoughts – Do Not Seek Failure Nor Try to Learn From It
The point of this article is not to tout some nonsense about learning from your mistakes. The people who learn from their mistakes will often tout the merits of learning from mistakes because they never get the chance to learn from success. This article is not about learning from mistakes, it is about getting your mistakes and failures out of the way. It is about being a little more bold, and not being seduced by the metrics.
Analyzing and optimizing is BRILLIANT. It is how you turn a mediocre company into a world-class company. BUT, analyzing and optimizing is a late-game process. Nobody is saying you should go into a project blind. Get the relevant information and make your decisions based on it, but do not rely on it. Do not make it your holy grail. Do not make it your only source of reasoning when you work on a project.
Analyzing and optimizing is not what you do to find the right path. It is what you do when you have found the right path. Do not seek failure but be aware that you have many failures to overcome before you find your success. So, do not be afraid to fail a little faster.