Infinite Choices Is a Fallacy – How to Avoid Infinitethink

By February 5, 2013Millennial

Fallacy of Infinite ChoicesIf there is one thing we have today, it is a lot of choices.

Whether it is creating, drinking, living, or doing, this list grows easily. Just walk through a grocery and see how many flavors, brands, and options present in any given category. Cruise the web and there are over 181 million blogs to read, explore, and learn from. We are amazed and confused.

Choices surround us and can engulf us or freeze us.

Choices engulf us as we begin considering the endless alternatives. If all these choices exist, then there must something we are missing. We explore further and end up getting lost in an over-stuffed closet of junk. We become more enamored with the possible choices than the art of selecting, deciding, and moving forward. We become dazed.

Choices also freeze us when we want to evaluate each one before selecting the “right” one. We get caught up in over-analyzing and confuse ourselves and others around us. Put in a team or organizational context and we see initiatives stall and momentum lost. We become stuck.

We need to learn how to make choices and decisions.

As highlighted previously, choices set a direction and decisions further enable the momentum of choices made. Whether choices or decisions, we need to narrow the options and select. Analysis and discussion are required but, at some reasonable point, it is time to select and move forward.

Outlined below are three ways to facilitate thinning our choices.

1 – Ensure the problem is well-defined. To help narrow options, the problem, challenge, or opportunity needs to be clear. Open-ended problem definitions can be as troubling as infinite choice syndrome. There needs to be boundaries set so that the right options align with the issue or challenge. Too broad or too vague of a problem statement opens a universe of fruitless exploration.

Spend the time to get the statement defined upfront. It will make later exchanges much more productive.

2 – Embrace self-control. Each team member needs to demonstrate some self-control in choice selection. Thinking is good; over-thinking usually isn’t. Over-thinking just leads to frustration and exhaustion. It is not about limiting creativity. More importantly, it is about staying focused on the problem or opportunity statement at hand, realizing that not every possible choice can be explored in detail.

Take a deep breath and do a quick self-assessment on the level of your self-control. Getting a grip will exemplify the behavior you want to see in others.

3 – Understand purpose. There are two angles to purpose here. What is the organizational purpose? What is your purpose? The purpose of the strategy or organization should narrow options, and your role within the context of the problem or opportunity statement should taper the options considered. In other words, purpose sets a context in which to make the selection of choices.

Our organizational purpose is a broader one, and our individual purpose within an organization is a subset. We have a viewpoint, but a focus will help provide different views while engaging in a conversation of which choices to select. Purpose should be the bumper to keep the right options in play until a final one is picked as the winning choice.

Balance plays a key role in how choices are reduced.

There needs to be a sensible test to each of the three ways. Groupthink needs to be avoided just as “infinitethink” needs to be. Openness needs to be encouraged during a discovery phase yet, at some point, the information collected needs to move to the next phase. Balance and process serve as the sanity check, using definition, self-control, and purpose as the guide.

I am coining a new term today – Infinitethink. It is when an individual or group feels the pressure of too many choices and gets caught in a loop of always thinking there is a better option. Infinitethink leads to indecision.

It is also important to remember a few key points to avoid infinitethink:

  • Take smaller shots, limiting risk. Risk is okay but calculated risk is even better.
  • Embrace innovative and creative solutions. Extending the boundaries of normal can refresh our problem-solving outlook.
  • Understand the risks but don’t be engrossed with them; there is risk in almost everything.
  • Be open to challenging conversations, especially ones that drive toward making a choice and decision. Listen, understand, and exchange.
  • Set milestones and measure results against expectations. Be prepared to adjust as needed.

We cannot afford to get caught up in the infinite choices available. We need to be reasonable, timely, and focused. We need to be open to a path forward and then measure along the way, adjusting as required.

What practices do you recommend as a way to avoid infinitethink and drive decisions forward? Please add your insights in the comments section below.

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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  • […] Infinite Choices Is a Fallacy – How to Avoid Infinitethink Written by: Jon Mertz […]

  • Suzie Carr says:

    This is one that resonates with me: Be open to challenging conversations, especially ones that drive toward making a choice and decision. Listen, understand, and exchange.

    I used to be afraid to be challenged because it’s uncomfortable. But, then I realized I was limiting myself. One of the greatest ways to grow and learn to make solid, confident decisions is to be ope to critical feedback and challenging conversations.

    • Jon M says:

      Great points, Suzie. Being uncomfortable can often mean we are being stretched, learning more and reaching higher. We need to embrace those moments. Thanks so much for your voice in these conversations! Jon

  • Marquita Herald says:

    Excellent insight as always Jon. Is basic as it may seem, I think one of your most valuable points is the first one – defining the problem. So often people are so anxious to do whatever it takes to make a problem go away, they fail to take the time to get to the bottom of the real issue – which of course is key to helping us make the right choices. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Jon M says:

      I agree, Marquita. Defining the problem is a major help in keeping focused on the choices that really solve it. Spending the time to tighten the problem definition will yield big results in later discussions and decisions. Thanks! Jon

  • Alli Polin says:

    Thanks, Jon! Great suggestions on how to get unstuck from the land of infinite choice and into action.! The ones who probably struggle the most with this are people who are naturally “thinking types” and like to have ALL of the information before making a decision. Teams that are made up of people that lean towards thinking and evaluation with those that prefer diving into action create a balance that can either lead to lots of painful exchanges or really works. To get it to really work, people need to be willing to flex from their preferred styles and lean into and connect with the styles of others.

    Another fantastic post, Thanks!

    • Jon M says:

      That is a great point, Alli. By leveraging the styles of other team members, it helps to prevent getting stuck in constant re-hashing of options or constantly adding new ones into the mix. Using each team member’s strengths openly is what makes teams so valuable! Thanks! Jon

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