How to conquer decision paralysis


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‘Decision Paralysis’ is something we all experience personally on a regular basis. With so many options, and easy access to vast quantities of information on the pros and cons of each, sometimes we feel stuck in a web of information, overwhelmed and unable to make a decision.

This phenomena of over-analysis that prevents the making of a decision can be much more costly in the organizational setting, where failing to act can have widespread consequences. Below are our tips for putting a stop (!) to decision paralysis within your marketing department:

Limit access to information

If we begin with a huge set of data, chances are we will feel overwhelmed from the get-go. A performance dashboard can really help us to get started on the right foot by presenting limited contextual, relevant and well-presented information. By comparing principal KSIs/KPIs to objectives, we can quickly understand exactly what we should be analysing by identifying opportunities or problems.

This will ensure we are not analysing unnecessary data, but furthermore, understanding what we are trying to accomplish from the beginning; either to take advantage of an opportunity, or to resolve a problem, will help us to further focus our analysis and decision-making.

Set deadlines

No matter how many articles I read on productivity, I still catch my mind randomly wandering – and I don’t think I’m the exception! Without clearly defined deadlines, procrastination can have a fatal effect on decision-making.

Deadlines cannot be arbitrary, however.

‘Modify Twitter Card campaign on Tuesday, because Tuesday is my Social Media day’, is a terrible deadline.

Imagine you have two simultaneous campaigns. One with the objective of increasing long-term Brand Awareness (via Engagement), and the other to drive Traffic to your site to view a Product Launch Video from your large event today (Conversions).

  • The deadline for the Conversion campaign is therefore much more time-dependent. Your deadline might be ‘within 20 minutes’ s your new product revenue is highly dependent on video views and you can greatly impact ROI by implementing changes quickly.
  • The deadline for your Engagement campaign, however, is less urgent. If your objective is to increase Brand Engagements by 30% this quarter, then you might need to make a decision within a few days to make sure you are on the right track to hit your target.

In summary, deadlines should be based on the earliest possible time to make an informed decision to have the greatest impact.

Improve collaboration

Have you ever worked in a team that failed time and time again to make strong decisions? For whatever reason, the undeniable benefits of collaboration can sometimes be eroded by poor communication.

Too many conversations, or continual meetings are the result of, and also perpetuate, decision paralysis. Performance dashboards can help you to avoid this problem. Automatically distributing information important to making decisions can help you to cut down on unnecessary meetings, and by keeping relevant conversations centralized you will save on time lost searching for conversations in your email inbox.

Furthermore, setting out clear guidelines for communication, teaching strategies for effective collaboration, and continually monitoring the success of exchanges is vital in ensuring that teams don’t self-destruct into decision paralysis.

Always focus on objectives

The fact that objectives have been mentioned twice already should be a clue towards their importance. Having a clear mission in mind can eliminate decision paralysis as our decision makers will always understand what they are working to achieve.

Understand the consequences of decision paralysis

Letting decision paralysis prevent you from making a decision is akin to not making one. What will be the impact of letting things go on the way they are? If the prediction looks dire, perhaps even making a sub-optimal decision is better than making none. Weighing up the possible future cost of a decision can truly kick you into action.

Create a culture of openness and encourage a learning orientation

We are never going to be able to make the optimum decision all of the time. Creating a culture where transparency and openness to making errors harmoniously coexist is vital to avoid decision paralysis. Transparency or accountability will apply a certain amount of pressure on individuals to act in the best interest of objectives, while lack of fear to make mistakes will enable action taking (even if we fail).

Where the cost of making a decision is greater than the potential positive impact of the decision, we may fail to act. This makes complete sense when focusing only on effect on performance, but where human concern is factored in, it can be dangerous. For example, if I don’t take an action, because I am afraid that if the decision turns out to be poor I will be fired, I will not take it. This can have an adverse impact on performance. For example, if a decision has a 50% chance of decreasing performance by 10% and a 50% chance of increasing performance by 60%, generally we would want to take the action. But if that 50% chance of a 10% decrease means that I will lose my job, I will not make a decision, and performance will continue at the current rate. We lose that 50% chance of a 60% increase. So we must remove the personal cost in order to encourage action.

What we should be trying to develop is a culture where we are unafraid to make decisions, but where we also always analyse their impact – even in the case of success. We need to encourage learning so that we can improve future decision making by repeating (with case-by-case modifications) successful decisions, and by avoiding poor decisions.

Use the 80/20 Rule

In the context of performance, this rule states that 80% of value is generally created by 20% of the work. Keeping this in mind can help us to prevent decision paralysis, as we understand that more analysis, won’t necessarily have a great impact on our decisions after a certain point. In turn encouraging us to limit analysis and take action.

Furthermore, this rule can help us to prioritise analysis. We should search for opportunities or problems that will have the greatest positive impact and work to leverage or solve those.

Finally, it can help us get a jump on our decision-making. Theoretically, if we make huge strides initially within short periods of time, it should help us to quickly eliminate bad options, leaving us with more time to focus on better options.

Be open to testing

Testing on small samples can very effectively help us to destroy decision paralysis. Without fearing the fallout of making a poor decision on a large scale, testing on smaller samples can enhance our willingness to get creative and try out our theories. Positive actions can then be replicated on a larger scale, or negative actions can be undone or modified without having a large adverse effect.

How does your team overcome decision paralysis?


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Megan Wilcock

VP of Business Development for Sweetspot. Responsible for strategic brand development, marketing and business development. BA/BComm graduate from the University of Melbourne. My passion lies in finding creative solutions and encouraging collaboration.

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