Friday, September 9, 2011

KeFactors Friday: Overthinking

Mr. Winkle

As a creative, I’ve witnessed this in spades, both in myself and in others. So what is it?

Overthinking is taking something simple and straightforward, and beating it to death with an over-analysis of questions and “what ifs” that seek to illuminate the issue at hand, but instead leads it into more confusion. It usually occurs when the overthinker’s stressed and trying to do some “on the other hand” forecasting, to anticipate pitfalls and objections.

Overthinking occurs when:
  • There’s an anxious need to control outcomes. A direct-mail piece is going out, and someone on yours or the client’s team is worried about “how everyone will react” to a visual element or a phrase in the copy. What’s more, they ask questions like, “How do you think everyone will respond to this?” (re: a mailing list of 375,000 names)….
  • The individual doesn’t know what they’re doing. Micromanagement occurs when the individual doesn’t understand — or hasn’t been properly trained to do — their jobs, so there’s an escalating need to control, to predict, and to analyze every detail for every possible contingency. It’s a tortured way to live and work —of chasing the unknowables, of seeking pat answers to open-ended questions, of spreading anxiety around to others.
  • The overthinker was once praised for detailed analysis, but it’s become a chronic habit of diminishing returns. Not every situation requires the same level of analysis, and most professionals know that. The danger of overthinking is that you lose sight of what’s really important — eg, as staff is sent out to research answers or to confirm endless variables, deadlines are missed, opportunities forfeited, budget dollars expended. In my career, I’ve seen more money and man-hours wasted on the “due diligence” required by a single overthinker, than any dollars spent on actual production.
Next week — how to let yourself and others out of this trap called overthinking.

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