The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the quantity group: fifty pound of pots rated an A, forty pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on quality, however, needed to produce only one pot -albeit a perfect one - to get an A. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the quantity group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
I love this story. It reminds me of a few experiences I've had:
A few years back I served a brief stint as Market Intelligence Director for jobs.com. Several of the guys on the exec team came from a big 5 consulting firm. Every week I'd produce a report with a laundry list of all the competitive activities for the week -- new programs, new products, etc. -- and recommend a few immediate actions that would at least keep us in the game. But no, analysis paralysis was the dominant mindset and nothing ever got done. Funny how the company rapidly went under.
More recently I've consulted for a couple companies who just weren't sure whether they should invest in marketing activities. I recommended that we spend a small amount to test some ideas; if they work, we'll roll them out systemwide. If not, it wasn't a waste: we'd just try something else. Like the famous quote by Thomas Edison: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Unfortunately my clients were a bit too risk-averse... just like the quality group theorizing about perfection.
Of course, it's all well and good when it's someone else's money... but a bit tougher to apply it to one's own personal life (Yes, I too have been guilty of analysis paralysis!) It does take some courage to make a decision based on available information and stop second-guessing yourself. I think too often we can doubt our gut feeling because our brains are in overdrive, and we forget that 'gut feeling' is really the summation of unconscious brain calculations...