Friday 24 January 2020 4:16 am

Suffering from choice paralysis? How to defeat the indecision epidemic

A clearly important decision gets delayed multiple times — or not made at all — causing office-wide frustration. It’s a situation that will sound all too familiar for many of us.

In the past, we used to suffer from too few options to choose from; today, we suffer from too many. Abundance of choices has replaced scarcity. 

On top of this, the quantity of data and information at our disposal has grown exponentially thanks to resources like the internet, making it that much harder to decide between multiple choices. 

An overload of options can be demotivating. In fact, a study in 2000 by Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper found that people are more likely to purchase gourmet jams when offered a limited array of choices, rather than an extensive selection of 24.


Big organisations often also suffer from a lack of accountability. Sometimes it’s far from clear that a decision needs to be taken, let alone by whom. Delays and confusion emerge when no one is in charge.

While algorithms and expert systems can help make the right decision, the most important choices are still left to human decision makers. As a result of all this, we are now facing an epidemic of indecision. 

Given this issue, how can we learn to make and implement effective decisions? Here are five guidelines to help if you’re organisation is suffering from the indecision epidemic. 

Limit your options

If faced with too many options, try to eliminate as many as possible. Can you apply knock-out criteria to eliminate most of the choices? Then score the options (for example on a scale from one to 10) on a few dimensions that are important to you.

Cut one decision out each day

For some people, making decisions over the course of the day can lead to “decision fatigue”. 

Try reducing your mental load. Cutting one decision out of their days is the reason why Barack Obama, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg wear only one or two combinations of clothing.

‘Timebox’ your search

Not knowing if you’ve considered all the options can lead to “I need more information” anxiety. 


Allow yourself 30 minutes or an hour to research all the options you can find in that timeframe. Chances are that you will have pretty much exhausted the list of available options after that session.

Redefine your process 

If you’re unsure who needs to make a decision, the “RACI” framework is a powerful approach that can help identify accountability. 

It stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. Use it to define: who is responsible for implementing the decision; who is accountable for it; who needs to be consulted; and who needs to be provided with information to keep them in the loop.

Keep your options open

You won’t be able to predict an outcome with full certainty, so look for opportunities that allow you to revoke your initial decision if necessary. 

For example, negotiate a trial period that allows you to test a product or service before you buy. These decisions are low stakes and should be decentralised as much as possible. 

Don’t let the indecision epidemic take over your office. The key is to clearly define organisational responsibilities for decision making, and ruthlessly limit the amount of decisions and options available to you.

In a world of abundance, cutting through complexity is the key to staying sane — and for your organisation to stay effective.

Simon Mueller and Julia Dhar are the authors of The Decision Maker’s Playbook, out now from FT Publishing.

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