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Knowledge Paralysis

 

Explanations > Decisions > Knowledge Paralysis

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?

 

Description

'Knowledge paralysis' is a problem into which smart people may fall. Being clever, they know many things. But also, their cleverness leads them to realize that there are many more things that they do not know, either because information is not available or they cannot find it.

As a result of this knowing that they do not know, clever people may become paralyzed when they need to make a decision. Yet to not make a decision is still to make no decision, and can lead to worse problems than may occur if the imperfect decision is wrong.

Another way paralysis can occur is where the person has plenty of data, but it requires analysis to make sufficient sense and build a good decision. When this takes too much time, then the person may appear frozen.

Example

A student writing a paper is unable to read all the possible literature for references and ends up panicking.

A doctor, knowing all the possible diagnoses and that her own tests are limited ends up sending most patients to other doctors for further assessment and tests.

A marketer is worried about limited competition and customer data and ends up delaying product launch, during which time a competitor gets newspaper headlines in being 'first to market' with this product type.

Discussion

A reason clever people do this is because they are used to success and always want to make the best decision, but they lack enough data to do this. So, fearing failure, they keep seeking more and more data, trying to get complete information. But  as they dig down, they find even more information that they need. This can lead to seeking information without any apparent end. Alternatively, they may just stop and not decide.

This is a real dilemma for knowledge professionals, of which there are now many. When you are paid by what you know, then not knowing can make you feel vulnerable.

This is a curse that afflicts many intelligent people. In the ignorance trap, people do not know what the do not know and so think themselves wise. In the opposite effect, intelligent people know that there is much that they do not know.

So what?

When you make or facilitate decisions, gather what data you can. Still try to know what data you do not have, but do not endlessly seek this. Just make the best decision you can and manage the rest as risks.

Time is a factor in many decisions and deciding now may have benefits that are not available later. Remember also that not deciding is, in fact, deciding.

See also

The Knowledge Trap

 

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