Chief Executive Insights

Decision Paralysis: The Corporate Pandemic

Steve Mast, President and Chief Innovation Officer of Delvinia
Steve Mast, President and Chief Innovation Officer of Delvinia

Have you found yourself on too many Zoom calls debating what direction a marketing campaign should go in? Have you heard your team bickering in meeting after meeting about what feature consumers will want in a new product? Have you just found your organization struggling to make a decision, any decision?

It’s not uncommon. A client of ours went through what is a very typical scenario: they were trying to launch a new national ad campaign, but couldn’t agree on whether their target audience would understand the analogy being proposed – a turducken. They had several high-level team members in the meeting arguing about this, while their ad agency waited on a decision. It was rapidly becoming a waste of time and, importantly, money. Sound familiar?

According to procrastination.com, “Decision paralysis occurs when we have to select from options that are difficult to compare. Simply stated, decision paralysis can be described as having such a tough time choosing between action A or B that we pick action C or do nothing at all. The more options we have in front of us, the harder it becomes to choose one. In addition, as complexity or importance is increased, the amount of energy the analysis takes out of us increases, as well. In fact, having to make a choice at all creates negative emotions, which can lead to decision fatigue or a delay in making the decision.”

Decision paralysis was a problem for corporations before the pandemic, but COVID-19 turned the dial way up. How do you make decisions when you don’t know what the next two weeks hold, never mind the next two years? How do you cater to your customers when what they want changes as quickly as the weather? These were serious obstacles to efficient decision-making over the last 18 months, and while they may be starting to improve, they certainly aren’t over.

You might be asking yourself, why does it matter? Isn’t it good to be taking time to really think through all of our business decisions? At first glance, the answer would seem to be yes. But there is a difference between thinking through decisions and simply being inefficient at making them. And it turns out, that difference is costly.

According to a study by McKinsey, more than half of the time individuals spend making decisions is considered inefficient. They estimate that “for managers at an average Fortune 500 company, this could translate into more than 530,000 days of lost working time and roughly $250 million of wasted labor costs per year.”

That’s a lot of waste due to inefficiency.

Think of the savings your organization could realize if everyone just started making decisions more efficiently. The decision quality doesn’t even have to change for this to have a real impact on your bottom line.

The good news, however, is that if you do improve the speed at which decisions are made in your company, those decisions are actually likely to be of a higher quality. In the same McKinsey study, they found that when an organization makes decisions quickly, they are twice as likely to make high-quality decisions compared to slow decision-makers.

So improving the efficiency of your organization’s decision-making could save you a lot of time and money. But how do you actually make that happen?

In my experience, the reason people get caught in decision paralysis is because they don’t feel they have enough information to make a choice. A group could be deadlocked by opposing opinions, with no one able to definitively say, “these are the facts, this is the right choice.”

Those same clients I mentioned above were stuck in exactly this predicament – they weren’t sure if their customers would know what a turducken is. Thankfully, one team member in the room had access to a customer insights platform and easily launched a survey asking their target audience exactly that. Within an hour, they had their answer – enough of their audience were familiar with turducken to move ahead with the concept.

Yes, unsurprisingly in this world of uncertainty, the key to undoing decision paralysis is data. A study by PwC found that organizations that are highly data-driven are three times more likely to report significant improvements in decision-making than those who are not.

But not just any data will do. Individuals across your organization need to be able to quickly access relevant data to the problem at hand. And that’s where technology comes in.

With the right tools, individuals across an organization could easily launch research projects that will rapidly deliver concrete results on which decisions can be based. It’s a lot harder to waffle on which ad to use when consumers have indicated a clear preference. Conflicting opinions get silenced when there’s data indicating an answer. It’s easier to make any decision with confidence when you have some data to back you up.

Will data make every decision easier? No. But it will make a lot of them faster, simpler, and higher-quality. And that will save your business time, money, and a whole lot of uncertainty. It’s time to get over our decision paralysis and start making quick, data-driven choices that will better serve both our organizations and our customers.


Written by Steve Mast, the President and Chief Innovation Officer of Delvinia.

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Steve Mast
Steve Mast is the President and Chief Innovation Officer of Delvinia, a data collection firm that has captured more than 180 million opinions and created the automated market research platform Methodify, recognized as one of the GRIT top 50 most innovative companies in the world.

Steve Mast is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.