Analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is the state of
over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or
action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. A decision
can be treated as over-complicated, with too many detailed options, so
that a choice is never made, rather than try something and change if a
major problem arises. A person might be seeking the optimal or
"perfect" solution upfront, and fear making any decision which could
lead to erroneous results, while on the way to a better solution.
On the opposite end of the time spectrum is the phrase extinct by
instinct, which is making a fatal decision based on hasty judgment or
a gut reaction.
The phrase "analysis paralysis" describes a situation in which the
opportunity cost of decision analysis exceeds the benefits that could
be gained by enacting some decision, or an informal or
non-deterministic situation where the sheer quantity of analysis
overwhelms the decision-making process itself, thus preventing a
decision. The phrase applies to any situation where analysis may be
applied to help make a decision and may be a dysfunctional element of
organizational behavior. This is often phrased as paralysis by
2 Software development
4 Casual analysis paralysis
4.1 Personal analysis
4.2 Conversational analysis
6 Preventing and overcoming
6.1 Set limits
6.2 Clarify objectives and priorities
6.3 Remember nothing is perfect
6.4 Take small iterative steps
6.5 Change number of options
6.6 Add or remove emotion
Talk about it
6.8 Make your best decision
8 See also
The basic idea has been expressed through narrative a number of times.
In one "Aesop's fable" that is recorded even before Aesop's time, The
Fox and the Cat, the fox boasts of "hundreds of ways of escaping"
while the cat has "only one". When they hear the hounds approaching,
the cat scampers up a tree while "the fox in his confusion was caught
up by the hounds". The fable ends with the moral, "Better one safe way
than a hundred on which you cannot reckon". Related concepts are
expressed by the Centipede's dilemma, how unconscious activity is
disrupted by conscious thought of it, and by the tale of Buridan's
ass, a paradox of rational decision with equal options.
In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the main character, Prince Hamlet, is often
said to have a mortal flaw of thinking too much, such that his youth
and vital energy are "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought".
Neema Parvini explores some of Hamlet's key decisions in the chapter
"'And Reason Panders Will': Another Look at Hamlet's Analysis
Voltaire popularized an old Italian proverb in French in the 1770s of
which an English variant is "Perfect is the enemy of good." The
meaning of "The perfect is the enemy of the good" is that one might
never complete a task if one has decided not to stop until it is
perfect: completing the project well is made impossible by striving to
complete it perfectly.
"Analysis, paralysis" appeared together in an 1803 pronouncing
dictionary and later editions stating how those words are pronounced
similarly. The usage of rhyming words can make aphorisms sound more
truthful and be more memorable by their usage of the rhyme-as-reason
effect and ode mnemonics.
In 1928 at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Reverend C.
Leslie Glenn, National Secretary for College Work. spoke that the
religious collegiate world was at risk of "paralysis by analysis" from
being too speculative instead of definitive, needing real work instead
During World War II, Winston Churchill, after hearing that the landing
craft designers were spending the majority of their time arguing over
design changes, sent this message: "The maxim 'Nothing avails but
perfection' may be spelt shorter: 'Paralysis.'"
In 1956, Charles R. Schwartz wrote the article "The
Return-on-Investment Concept as a Tool for Decision Making" in
Changing Patterns And Concepts In Management stating, "We will do less
guessing; avoid the danger of becoming extinct by instinct; and, by
the adoption of one uniform evaluation guide, escape succumbing to
paralysis by analysis."
In 1965, H.
Igor Ansoff wrote the book Corporate Strategy: An Analytic
Approach to Business Policy for Growth and Expansion. He used the
phrase "paralysis by analysis" in reference to those who used the
approach to excess. Ansoff had referenced Schwartz's paper in
couple of his papers.
In a paper published in 1970, based on a speech in 1969 and other
works, Silver and Hecker wrote:
The Duke group has used the term "analysis-paralysis" to point out
that, if we wait until we have completely answered all the questions
and solved all of the problems before training the personnel we need,
we will never reach a solution. The insistent demands for further
study and extensive evaluation suggested by some may only be a defense
by those who do not wish to change or those who fear change.
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary says that the earliest uses of "analysis
paralysis" found in
The Times were in the 1970s.
In software development, analysis paralysis typically manifests itself
Waterfall model with exceedingly long phases of project
planning, requirements gathering, program design and data modeling,
which can create little or no extra value by those steps and risk many
revisions. When extended over too long a timeframe, such processes
tend to emphasize the organizational (i.e., bureaucratic) aspect of
the software project, while detracting from its functional
Analysis paralysis often occurs due to the lack of experience on the
part of business systems analysts, project managers or software
developers, as well as a rigid and formal organizational culture.
Analysis paralysis is an example of an anti-pattern. Agile
software development methodologies explicitly seek to prevent analysis
paralysis by promoting an iterative work cycle that emphasizes working
products over product specifications but requires buy-in from the full
project team. In some instances
Agile software development
Agile software development ends up
creating additional confusion in the project in the case where
iterative plans are made with no intention on having the team
Choke (sports) and Nervous nineties
Analysis paralysis is a critical problem in athletics. It can be
explained in simple terms as "failure to react in response to
over-thought." A victim of sporting analysis paralysis will frequently
think in complicated terms of "what to do next" while contemplating
the variety of possibilities, and in doing so exhausts the available
time in which to act.
Casual analysis paralysis
There are additional situations in which analysis paralysis can be
identified, but in which the phenomenon is often accidental or
Casual analysis paralysis can occur during the process of trying to
make personal decisions if the decision-maker overanalyzes the
circumstance with which they are faced. When this happens, the sheer
volume of analysis overwhelms the decision-maker, weighing him or her
down so much that they feel overwhelmed with the task, unable to make
a rational conclusion.
In some cases, the decision-maker can analyze every possible outcome
of an action and write it all out, but then delete it because of how
they analyze the outcome to be and how they may be viewed.
Although analysis paralysis can actually occur at any time, regarding
any issue in typical conversation, it is particularly likely to occur
during elevated, intellectual discussions. During such intellectual
discussion, analysis paralysis involves the over-analysis of a
specific issue to the point where that issue can no longer be
recognized, and the subject of the conversation is lost. Usually, this
happens because complex issues (which are often the basis of elevated,
intellectual conversation) are intricately connected with various
other issues, and the pursuit of these various issues makes logical
sense to the participants. Below is an example of how analysis
paralysis might affect a conversation about human rights:
China's one child policy
Individualism versus the common good
All of these issues are closely related and each issue brings up yet
another related one. The assumption is that, eventually, the analysis
will move on so far astray that the initial issue of human rights
becomes a sub-issue or is no longer even recognizable to the current
topic under discussion.
Games provide a microcosm for decision-making where there can be
adversaries, hidden or missing information, random events, complex
options, and consequences. In this context, analysis paralysis denotes
a state where a player is so overwhelmed by aspects of the decision
tree that he or she faces that the player's turn takes an inordinate
amount of time. This can be compounded in a losing position where the
player is exhaustively searching for a win or purposely stalling to
prevent officially losing the game. The connotation is often
pejorative, implying that the slowing of the game diminished the
enjoyment by other players. Some games explicitly add time
deadlines (e.g. with a chess clock or egg timer). In chess this
slowing of play is referred to as Kotov Syndrome and, in timed chess
matches, can result in time trouble. Good game design can reduce the
likelihood of analysis paralysis in gameplay. Game design itself
can also be susceptible to analysis paralysis.
Preventing and overcoming
There are many ways to help prevent or overcome the logjam of analysis
paralysis. There may be many factors contributing to the cause. Lon
Roberts breaks down the common definition of "analysis paralysis" into
three possibly overlapping conditions of paralysis: analysis process,
decision precision, and risk uncertainty. He uses this to give
specific actions for each condition. Becky Kane and others give
these following suggestions:
Set initial constraints (deadline, time, people, money, resources,...)
to what you are willing to commit for this plan. Setting deadlines:
"Set a 'drop dead' date." "Set a deadline and hold yourself
accountable." Limit the amount of info: "Curb your curiosity."
"Intentionally limit the amount of information you consume."
Clarify objectives and priorities
Having a clear goal can simplify your decisions and actions for any
project. "Know your main objective."
Remember nothing is perfect
"Recognize that the moons will never align."
Take small iterative steps
Agile development and design thinking are two recent movements
emphasizing small iterations to discover the problem space. "Approach
problems with an iterative mindset." Decide something: "Stair step
your decisions." Resorting to Flipism, at least to reveal your
preference, can resolve seeming equal choices. Do something: "Start
before you feel ready."
Change number of options
Increasing the number of options in the beginning increase the
likelihood for a good solution. Decreasing the number of options later
simplifies the decision process (Paradox of choice).
Add or remove emotion
Decision making works best with a mix of rational, intuitive and
Talk about it
Talking with someone can get another viewpoint. This can also help
reduce groupthink. "Get a sanity check." "Get out of your own head
and talk it out with someone else." It doesn't even have to be a
person (see Rubber duck debugging).
Make your best decision
Decision fatigue can affect or even prevent good decision making.
"Structure your day for the decisions that matter most." When you
do make your decision, support it. "Make your decision the right
"Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon." —
Aesop's The Fox and the Cat
"The perfect is the enemy of the good." — Voltaire
"The best thing is to do the right thing; the next best is to do the
wrong thing; the worst thing of all things is to stand perfectly
Alfred Henry Lewis (on
Theodore Roosevelt and politics)
"The maxim 'Nothing avails but perfection' may be spelt shorter:
'Paralysis.'" — Winston Churchill
"Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too
late, the best never comes" — Robert Watson-Watt
"Better a good decision quickly than the best decision too late." —
Obsessive–compulsive personality disorder
The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
Perfect is the enemy of good
Regret (decision theory)
^ a b c d e f Jeff Boss, How To Overcome The 'Analysis Paralysis' Of
Decision-Making, Forbes, March 20, 2015
Shakespeare Resource Center - Line Analysis: Hamlet".
^ Parvini, Neema. "'And Reason Panders Will': Another Look at Hamlet's
Shakespeare and Cognition: Thinking Fast and Slow
through Character. Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 52–62.
^ Walker, John (1803). A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary, and
Expositor of the English Language...: To which are Prefixed,
Principles of English Pronunciation... Budd and Bartram.
^ The Spirit of Missions. J. L. Powell. 1928.
^ Christian Education. Council of Church Boards of Education in the
United States of America. 1928.
^ a b Roberts, Lon (January–February 2010). "Analysis Paralysis: A
Case of Terminological Inexactitude" (PDF). Defense AT&L: 18–22.
Archived from the original on 31 January 2017. Retrieved 13 May
^ General Management Series Pamphlet #183. American Management
Association. 1956. pp. 42–61.
^ Ansoff, H. Igor (1965). Corporate Strategy: an Analytic Approach to
Business Policy for Growth and Expansion. New York: McGraw-Hill.
^ Kennedy, Carol (2006). Guide to the management gurus : the best
guide to business thinkers (5th ed.). London: Random House Business.
^ "Igor Ansoff". The Economist.
^ Ansoff, H. I. (July 1958). "A Model for Diversification". Manage.
Sci. 4 (4): 392–414. doi:10.1287/mnsc.4.4.392.
^ Silver, Henry K.; Hecker, James A. (March 1970). "The Pediatric
Nurse Practitioner and the Health Associate: New Types of Health
Professionals". Journal of Medical Education. 45: 171–176. Retrieved
10 May 2016.
^ "analysis paralysis: definition of analysis paralysis in Oxford
dictionary (American English) (US)". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 10
^ "Managing Analysis Paralysis". Business Analyst Learnings. Retrieved
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^ "Analysis Paralysis". Sourcemaking. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
^ "Board Game Resource - How to deal with Analysis Paralysis?". Board
Game Resource. 26 October 2015. Retrieved 15 May 2016.
Games to Prevent Analysis Paralysis - Part 1 The Best
Games Are Yet To Be Made". www.leagueofgamemakers.com. Retrieved 15
^ "GDC Vault - Overcoming Analysis Paralysis: Experimenting with Bears
vs. Art". www.gdcvault.com.
^ a b c d e f g h i Kane, Becky (8 July 2015). "The Science of
Analysis Paralysis: How Overthinking Kills Your Productivity &
What You Can Do About It". Todoist Blog. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
^ Langley, Ann (April 15, 1995). "Between "Paralysis by Analysis" and
"Extinction by Instinct"". MIT Sloan Management Rev