Analysis paralysis – when too much research is bad for business

We’ve heard from business workshops, business coaches, marketing experts, academics and even other business owners on how important research is in business. But at a certain point does too much research become procrastination?

Business success involves more than just research.

Operating a business isn’t an exact science, especially when it’s a small business. There are many factors that make a business successful.

Doing your research is one success factor and it’s particularly critical when you’re in startup phase. You can’t start a business successfully unless you’ve researched if there’s demand for your product and service, and identifying where you can find these customers.

Competitor research is essential for working out your point of difference. At other stages in your business life cycle, research can be important for deciding when to expand, where to purchase or lease property and even how many staff to employ.

Having online accounting software will make this kind of research easier for you, but even that relies on you having historical financial data to analyse and therefore won’t be relevant at the beginning of your business journey.

When starting a business, you want to know “Will my business be successful?” The answer to this question is: nobody knows and research alone can’t predict business success.

I have seen many potential business owners attend workshop after workshop for a couple of years, feeling as though they just don’t have enough information to start their business. They’re still searching for that one piece of information that will take the risk out of business. Ironically, one of biggest risks in business is not taking action and this is an outcome of relying too heavily on research.


How analysis paralysis becomes a problem


The greatest risk of relying wholly and solely on research is that it can lead you to a state of analysis paralysis, feeling as though you can’t take action unless you have all the information.

The problem with this way of thinking is that it’s almost impossible to get all the information needed to have a 100 percent guaranteed outcome. Also, having the answers in theory may not necessarily reflect what is going to happen in practice. For example, in medical research a new treatment might work for the majority of people yet it may not work for you. Likewise, business research may tell you that more and more people are buying online yet in practice they’re not buying online from you. That research isn’t helpful for you because it doesn’t apply to you.

READ: A guide to market research for the new business owner

In a worst-case scenario, focusing too much on getting research or more information before you act, may cause you to miss the business opportunity that was there in the first place.

This is because timing and speed to market are also critical for business success and should not be sacrificed in favour of more research.

Sometimes you have to just take action with or without research, particularly if the timing is right. One of the skills that business owners learn is to trust their instincts, insights and use their experience in their decision making. If they make a mistake they learn from it and promptly correct it.

Having the flexibility to change direction and take action to recover from a mistake can often be the difference between survival and failure.


Three signs you might be experiencing analysis paralysis


If you’ve been spending a lot of time on research, you may be causing your business pain. Here are a few of the major warning signs to watch out for.

  • Spending time doing industry research when you’ve worked in the industry for over 10 years. Industry research is important, but if you’ve got that experience you also need to trust the knowledge you’ve built up through your years of work.
  • Agonising over growth predictions for 10 years and beyond. Things are changing so rapidly that focusing too far out can actually become a distraction. When I started in business over 20 years ago, we were encouraged to write business plans five to 10 years out. Times have changed. Today, five years is usually the longer end of the planning scale and the majority of business plans are no more than three years out. The reality is you may not even be the same business 10 years from now.
  • Doing more researching than actioning the outcomes of your research. Sometimes you’ll learn more from your actions than by trying to build complex models and forecasts. Tech companies often use Australia as a testing ground for new products. If we like it here, it’s a good indication that customers in other countries will like it as well. Alternatively, restaurants regularly trial new dishes as a special to test their popularity. If it sells well, they may eventually add it to the regular menu.

Business research is a good thing, but relying on it to make your decisions for you it not so good. Developing your decision-making muscles, taking action and backing your judgement are just as helpful for business success.

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