As an engineer, I have been a THINKER most of my life. Along with the benefits of being able to reason through complex problems comes the handicap of over-thinking. I was not fully aware of my problem until I transitioned from the role of engineer to salesman. In sales calls, I became aware that I needed to convert complex problems into clearly articulated problems, solutions and benefits in concise and understandable language. I then learned to use my intuition instead of analytical thought for problem solving, and it has served me well ever since.
The Problem with Perfectionists
When I started managing engineers who had my same problem of over-thinking, I came up with the following chart:
The chart shows how you can continue to invest time and money to try to make your product or service PERFECT, but you will start to diminish your value substantially after you have surpassed the GOOD ENOUGH threshold. In fact, after 95% perfect, you will spend twice as much time and money to get to 97% perfect; and after 97% perfect, you will spend three times as much to get to 98% perfect. If you understand the chart, perfect is not obtainable; and so you will spend an infinite amount of time and money to try to be perfect.
What is Paralysis by Analysis?
Paralysis by Analysis is when you think about a problem for way too long; or analyze aspects of a problem until you either fail to find a solution; or continue to analyze after you already have a solution that is ‘good enough’. In many cases, you may even forget the original problem you were trying to solve because you are so enthralled with the thinking process. It is quite common when you get into thinking mode that you may even change major directions multiple times because you are unsure if you are on the RIGHT path. This over-thinking creates a type of ‘paralysis’ that will diminish your effectiveness as a company; and damage your reputation as a leader. In political leadership, this is called “Flip Flopping”.
How Can Goal Setting Help?
Most people who find themselves in analysis-by-paralysis lack vision in where they are going. This tends to allow your mind to create work as you go that gets you literally nowhere. If you set goals and a vision for where you are going in your business and your life; you will find that most of your days are filled with pure purpose driven tasks. This doesn’t mean you don’t change course on occasion, but it does mean that course changes are deliberate and based on ideas that have been predetermined.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you have picked a billboard marketing plan to attract customers to your new restaurant. In order to pay for your billboard advertising, you need to gain 5 additional customers per week in your restaurant. You plan to ask all restaurant customers how they heard about your restaurant to see if your billboard strategy is working. In your first week, you find that only 1 out of 50 customers learned about your restaurant from your new billboard. The over-thinkers will quickly question whether they picked the right marketing strategy when it appears that it is not achieving the results they had hoped for. Their minds will immediately search for options and try to find different ways to market as opposed to waiting to see how the billboard strategy will work over time.
Now let’s say that you set a goal of achieving 10 additional customers per week with billboard advertising over a period of 3-months? You believe that you will slowly grow customers over time and reach your goal in 3-months. When you get the 1 added client in the first week, you realize that you’re just getting started with your marketing strategy and give yourself time to reach your goal. The second week, you get 2 added clients, the third week 3; the fourth 4, etc… until you surpass your goal of 10 additional customers per week at the end of 3-months.
In the restaurant billboard example, the results could have gotten better, stayed the same or gotten worse. You really don’t know until you give your marketing strategy a fair shot. If you stayed flat at only 1 added customer per week for 2-months, then, it may have made sense to try something else. But when you are trending toward your goal, you know that you don’t have to worry about the results.
How Can You Use Your Intuition?
Most Americans are familiar with STAR WARS movie series. In the first movie (Episode IV) Luke Skywalker was being trained to “use the force”. He was blind-folded and told to defend himself with his light saber against laser attacks from a floating ball. If you follow the entire STAR WARS series, you know that Luke had a high concentration of Midi-chlorians in his blood stream which allowed him to use this “force” and he could do all sorts of magic with his super abilities and anticipate all kinds of things without logically thinking about anything.
While Midi-chlorians are quite fictional, we humans do have an ability to know something without proving that thing. This knowing is called “Intuition”. If you find yourself in the midst of “analysis paralysis”, you can follow this simple process: 1) Quiet your mind through a five minute meditation, breathing or centering exercise; and 2) ask yourself the simple question, “What do you feel is the right path forward?” You may be blown away at how right you are with this simple process and how quickly you can move forward in the right direction.
Why Don’t we Use our Intuition?
So, if intuition is so powerful and efficient, why don’t more people use their intuition? The answer to this question is quite simple, “Because we fear that we will need to defend WHY we made the decision we did to a boss, customer, public, or some other critic who thinks we made a bad decision.”
Here’s a trick I learned to help myself be more efficient and be able to rationalize my decisions to others. I make the decision I feel is right; and then rationalize why my decision was right. As backwards as this sounds, it works quite well. Every once in a while, I will find the facts don’t support my initial feeling; and then I change my mind before I make my ideas public.
What if There Were No Mistakes?
Early in my coaching training, I learned a lot of great principles. Among these was the idea, “There are No Mistakes”. I remember clearly how our class argued about this postulate. While I don’t want to debate all of the philosophical applications of this statement, I do want to pose an idea. What if, when you are deciding between Option A or Option B, neither option is particularly ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? And what if, when considering how to run your business or manage your staff, there were 100 right decisions you could make; and only 1 wrong one? How would this change how you make decisions?
As a coach, one of my primary objectives is to get my clients to trust and use their intuition; and stop over-thinking. This tactic not only reduces stress, it builds your confidence, and helps you move through life more effectively achieving meaningful goals.
Note from the Author
My name is Jeff Schuster. I am a certified Life and Business Coach serving small business owners, corporate executives and others who want to transition from “expert” to “entrepreneur”. I have been a small business owner for most of my 30-years in the workplace. I grew an energy efficiency and renewable energy engineering and construction company from nothing to over $10-million/year and sold it in 2013. I now help other business owners make amazing progress toward their own dreams of business ownership independence and success.