The Problem of Overthinking Problems

The Problem of Overthinking Problems

People inadvertently overthink problems.

I lead some large (MM$) initiatives with sizable teams. One thing that I’ve observed, and have been observing for a while which has been consistent is that people spend way too much time over-thinking problems and solutions. Why do they do that? You might have read about Occam’s (or Ockham’s) razor. This principle explains that there should not be more options than necessary. In simpler terms, things should not be blown out of proportion. Occam’s razor – Wikipedia

So why do people (and teams in organisations) overthink problems? Here are few things that I’ve noticed.
Ownership and Accountability: Sometimes teams don’t take ownership to avoid accountability. That is, they respond slow and hope someone else will take ownership. Sounds like culture issues, right?
Empowerment (or the lack of): Sometimes teams do not feel empowered and confident of the solutions they work on. Again, these are often culture issues. “Even if we find a solution, boss will do what they want. Let’s spend more time and provide multiple options.”
Deliberate delays on finding solutions: The thinking that goes on here is, ‘if we sit on a problem, it may go away’. We even observe this phenomena in our personal lives sometimes. Do you remember ignoring that annoying headache for days, which turned out to be the…?
Anxiety of the outcome: “Stakes are high and our reputation matters. Let’s think it through.” Anxiety can be a challenge, specifically in toxic environments. It certainly affects teams when stakes are high.
Psychological safety: “if we make a mistake, there can be consequences. So, let’s think carefully, and in detail so that we don’t get punished.” It’s indeed very important aspect of small problems taking longer to solve.
Culture matters: Good culture matters more. Leaders must strive to improve culture. Once people see that they enjoy personal freedom, they start taking responsibility of their own actions, and over-thinking of small problems drops.

What’s the solution for not overthinking problems?

Change your perception. Perception changes everything. A problem could be an opportunity.