In his monthly "Letter from the Mayor" series for October, Spring Hill Mayor Rick Graham touched on the what he called "analysis paralysis," a phenomenon in which decision-makers spend so much time and resources on making a decision, that the result is hindered or crippled in the process.
Using his own Board of Mayor and Aldermen as an example, Graham made his case for making swift, concrete decisions in a reasonable time frame — something, he argued, was essential in governing a city the size of Spring Hill.
See below to read Graham's latest "Letter from the Mayor" in its entirety.
I was pondering recently on what I was going to write about this month to you, our valued Chamber of Commerce and city business leaders. A few minutes later, I heard the words “analysis paralysis” on a television commercial, and it generated some thoughts that led to this month’s topic of decision making.
As business owners and leaders, you understand the importance of decision making. As citizens of Spring Hill, I’m sure you do the same for our city decisions. It’s a crucial function of management along with planning, organizing, directing, and controlling functions.
Now, with a few years under my belt as an elected official, I see all too well the complications, or implications, of making public major decisions. It differs somewhat from business decisions you make every day. Our Board of Mayor and Alderman (BOMA) have nine decision makers. Try getting nine people to agree on anything these days. This is something not unique to Spring Hill, or to only our elected officials, but something every governing decision making body contends with regularly.
When you have nine people of varied business experience, differing behavioral styles, political views, self-perceptions, or how they are being perceived, you will have a variety of views on any given topic. They weigh what they hear from others differently. They hear from their friends, their family, and the social media crowd and try to decide what is best for Spring Hill. How often do you poll your friends in your top decisions for your business?
This enormous input weighs heavily on each one of them. They are also contending with their personal bias, behavioral tendencies, and frankly wanting to satisfy their flesh of being a crowd pleaser. We all want to make people happy, as our pride depends on it. Weighing that against doing the right thing is challenging.
Some of these decision makers will be the grand standers and take charge one way or another very quickly to convince the others. It is about protecting their personal political brand, or how they perceive it looks to others.
Others will be the judges, taking in all the information until formulating a decision. Some of them will need more information, or data, to feel comfortable in making a decision and others do not. If we have several leaders doing this, it could lead to us to not making a decision in a reasonable time period. Or, right into “analysis paralysis.”
What does analysis paralysis mean? It is the over-analyzing, or over thinking of a situation, which can cause it to become paralyzed, meaning that no action was taken; therefore, a solution was not reached. And, we have all heard the old saying, no decision… is a decision.
It is the constant feel that we need more data, more information, more public input. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes this is necessary, but it also gets very expensive and time consuming, and may come with even worse consequences by “missing the boat.”
Publicly, as an elected official it might feel safer to delay my decision for the sake of more data. It makes us feel justified, as this is what the information says, so it must be true and the right thing to do. They can’t blame me for not making up my mind yet. Are we just paralyzing the outcome at that point?
The fear of making a bad decision and being accountable for it in public is a scary thought for each of us. Do we stop and think about what are the potential consequences of not moving on a decision quickly? Will the best alternative be gone by then? Maybe, or maybe not?
I look back over my time on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, and, with hindsight, can see decisions that we made too quickly. On the other hand, there were times we delayed decision making as we over analyzed for too long. This Monday morning quarterbacking is easy to do, not just by me, but by the public and new aldermen.
When I went into this I thought, as many of you probably do, that we should run government like we run our family household, or our business. What I have learned is that it is nearly impossible with all the intangibles and the 8 different budgets that must balance within their own means and restrictions. I could write a book on this difference, but I want to zone in on one aspect we don’t discuss much.
When was the last time you spent fifty thousand dollars to do a study for the items you should sell, or any business decision? How long would you stay in business? What are the chances that the study comes back and tells you exactly what you were thinking of doing anyway? Would you do that so you can justify your decision?
Probably not. We do it all the time in local government. And, it’s not just the money, but the time lost in productivity. Where’s the line where the expense and time exceeds the value of the information, and the peace of mind in making a decision? When does it move into “analysis paralysis”?
“Analysis paralysis” could also occur from just being overwhelmed by the available options. When you pay consultants, you are going to get a lot of options, as they will data dump you to justify every penny they charged. We also get this from city staff, as they will provide us in our agenda packages over 500 pages of information we may or may not need for our decision making. City staff must do this because if they don’t provide every molecule of information to our elected, they could be accused of neglect of duty, and shamed publicly.
So, our Board of Mayor and Aldermen gets this huge digital file, of often 500 pages plus, on the Friday before our Monday meetings. This is only a part of the information we need, but we must study this material thoroughly. Then we have to self-check our own personal beliefs and values on each item, seek counsel from others, poll social media, and jot down some questions in order to be prepared for the Monday night board meeting.
Many of our agenda items are quite simple, and do not lead us to analysis paralysis, show boating, or tough decisions. Analysis paralysis could happen when we are feeling compelled to pick the “perfect” decision; therefore, delaying making a decision until the due research is done, at high expense. Is this a “cop out”, or necessary? Are we over complicating the decision, looking for that perfect choice?
Is there ever that perfect decision? Are we delaying things to look for it? Are we going to make everyone happy with a perfect decision, that may or may not be there? Is it sometimes about making the best choice for that time and what we know? What if we are “second guessed” on this call? Can you feel the paralysis set in?
Will the outcome of this decision make a difference a year from now? What is the best and worst thing that will come out of it? If we don’t move now, what is the worst thing that can happen?
Should we only give the time, effort, and expense to an item that the analysis deserves? What is too much and too little? We should resist in trying to look good, smart, or wise to the citizens and just do the right thing. We must focus on the end goal and on what decisions need to be made today, versus the future. By delaying for the sake of analysis, what can we cause in new consequences, good or bad?
Perfection is not the key! We cannot set out goals and move toward them methodically like a straight railroad track. To some that is the hard plan and we don’t deviate from it, as we do our due diligence prior to starting and move in a direct line to our success. I’m of the mindset that moving to our goals is a zigzag, as we start our course well-planned and engineered, and adjust as we go to our desired outcome, as unexpected things come up.
My DiSC behavioral profile is just that way, as I prefer to start the decision making, avoid sitting on our hands, or kicking the can down the road. Many will argue against most of what I’m saying, as they may have a point that we could make a wrong decision on that course. Yes, and that’s where we zig and zag, but we are moving to our objective.
Remove all the clutter, the fear, and the bad options quickly. Narrow it down, push away the pride, and stop trying to please everyone in your ear. Take the advice and counsel of the experts, that don’t cost us an arm and a leg, and who will know more about it than some food guy on the BOMA.
We must do our homework, read up and be in the know. We should listen. The BOMA has the advantage that none of us are in the driving seat alone. Let’s not let one cowboy drive us. Let’s not let my style of decision making move us forward either, as it must be a vehicle with nine steering wheels but moving forward like one autonomous vehicle to our future. Let’s not sit in park or idle and wait too long for the light to turn green.
Overthinking kills your productivity and what you can do about it. Sometimes it is about spending less time making decisions, and more time about making progress. Psychologist Barry Schwartz coined the phrase “paradox of choices” to describe his consistent findings that while increased choices allow us to achieve objectively better results, it also leads to greater anxiety, indecision, paralysis, and dissatisfaction.
Sometimes the greater fear of making the wrong decision creates in turn a lot of spinning wheels, or analysis paralysis. Which leads to getting nowhere on our important projects.
Overthinking an issue makes it harder to do your best creative work. It leads to decision fatigue. Analyzing is good, but too much of it is not moving ahead. Sometimes you must stop analyzing and start doing.
What if we limited the amount of information we consume or consider? Can we justify deciding from what we know, instead of spending fifty thousand dollars for more information, and come to the same decision? Do we do that just to say we did it and why our decision is sound? Can you do that for your business?
Can we take in information without getting overwhelmed by it all? Can we get out of our own head and put it all into perspective enough for maybe not the perfect decision, but a good direction?
More often than not, the only way to know if our assumptions are correct is by actually taking action. That’s what we were elected to do. That fear of making a bad vote and damaging what we think people think about us is just not healthy.
Does this sound easy? No, and all of this lies in the laps of some fine citizens who decided to run for alderman and didn’t know how complex it was going into the part time (cough,cough) job of public servant. I do not mean to rub any of them in the wrong way from this commentary since I don’t have the answers to all of these questions either.
I guess only time will tell.
Make a great day!
— Rick Graham