Stratanalyphobia – The fear of doing any analytical work to justify your assertions about strategy. A common cause of business failure.

Lately I have been spending a lot of time analyzing myself. I am involved in multiple major projects and have discussed strategy to the point that it has interfered with real work. I think I am part of the problem. I think I have stratanalyphobia.

One of the reasons I think companies never get very far is that strategic discussions get bogged down in meaningless jibber jabber that isn't backed up by anything except a long chain of ungrounded assertions. For example:

Me: I think we should make the widget white.

Other person: Why?

Me: Because consumers like white widgets.

Other person: Why do you think that?

Me: Because they don't like black widgets.

Other person: Oh, okay.

That was a meaningless conversation, yet it is the kind I seem to get involved in often these days. Of course, no one has called me out for making meaningless assertions, and that is probably because it is so much easier for all parties involved if we just make random statements and hope for the best, while pretending that we are "thinking."

But let's back up a second. I admit that some things can't be analyzed. There may be no way to access relevant information, or there may be no tools to analyze information if you can get it. Sometimes, one must rely on "gut" instincts, which isn't always a bad idea. If you are intimately familiar with a certain market or industry or customer, you may have picked up and subconsciously processed certain information that you don't fully understand. You may have gut feelings and hunches based on this information, and they may pan out if you pursue them.

However, that doesn't mean you should go with your gut if you have the chance to analyze something. Human minds are prone to all sorts of cognitive biases, emotions, and weird thinking errors that they shouldn't be trusted over hard numbers (assuming we have reason to believe the numbers are accurate, of course).

Now, back to the strategy meetings. What I think happens is that
1. Everyone believes he/she is strong in strategy.
2. Everyone likes to talk about strategy because it is fun and easy.
3. The winning strategy comes from the person that can either make the best emotional appeal for their strategy, or concoct the best chain or faulty reasoning that sounds strong even though no data backs it up.

As a result of 1 and 2, it often takes forever to get to 3. Thus we get stratanalyphobia, a condition where no one wants to do any analysis, but would prefer to talk in circles and sound potentially smart.

How do you put an end to this, or more importantly, how do I put an end to my own stratanalyphobia? I think one solution is to ask people to do work.

Other person: We should make a black widget.

Me: Maybe we should. Company X made a similar product and changed colors several times. See if you can go dig up some information on which colors were most popular.

At this point, the other person has ended up with more work. Since human nature is to avoid work, the other person quickly becomes conditioned not to suggest anything, for fear it will end up in more work. Thus stratanalyphobia has been solved, and we can now work on suggestiontoincreaseinworkloadphobia, which I may cover next week.