Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

The paralysis of inaction


It’s no secret that difficult situations happen to everyone. Nothing you do will remove every obstacle on your path to success.

At time, the difficulties — such as emergencies — happen quickly. In those cases most people act quickly and do everything they can to mitigate their problems. However, difficulties often creep up slowly and cause pain gradually.

You’ve heard the story of boiling a frog. How often do you find yourself in a situation you know you want to change, but you can’t muster the courage to “jump out” or change your circumstances? This is the paralysis of inaction, and it has a negative, draining affect on your performance. In the book Think Big, Act Small the author Jason Jennings makes this astute observation:

Uncertain futures cause paralysis and inaction at a time when consumers are demanding more action, better products, and increasingly personalized services. In the face of such widespread chaos, it’s natural to return to the fundamentals.

Fortunately, most people who suffer from a paralysis of inaction can return to the fundamentals and make changes that will greatly improve their lives. In a recent post Donald Trump gives his economic survival tips, which are not only pertinent in our current economic situation but also equally important to defeating the paralysis of inaction:

  • Pay attention to national and international news and finance coverage at least several times a day, preferably hourly. In volatile times, vigilance is necessary.
  • Absorb, assess, and then act. Knowledge without action is impotence.
  • When a tsunami hits, there’s no time for procrastination. Keep your momentum in tune with the times.
  • Avoid your comfort zone — it’s probably outdated anyway.
  • If you’re honest, you should know the questions that should be asked, as well as the answers. That’s probably why there’s so much confusion out there today.
  • Remember The Blitz. That can put things into perspective. Things may be tough and getting tougher, but we’re not being bombed day in and day out either. If you don’t know what The Blitz is, use your time wisely to study WWII to find out.
  • Is your life half empty or half full? Half is better than zip. Count your blessings.
  • Realize that fear is the exact opposite of faith.
  • Resolve to be bigger than your problems. Who’s the boss?
  • Don’t negate your own power. Whatever you’ve been dealt, know you can deal with it.
Copyright © 2009 Donald J. Trump, author of Think Like a Champion: An Informal Education In Business and Life

Use Trump’s tips to help you improve your current situation. The most prescient of his tips for me…fear is the opposite of faith. I’ve heard that no less than ten times in the past two weeks. If you find yourself in fear or doubt I highly recommend you listen to Dr. Paul’s podcast Facing Your Giants. It’s well worth your time.

The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you know what happens when decisions are not made quickly. Product quality suffers and release dates are overshot. Take steps now to make sure you do not suffer from the paralysis of inaction.

4 thoughts on “The paralysis of inaction

  1. Michael – thanks for all you do to keep people moving forward.

  2. One night, I was out for a walk in an adjacent neigborhood. Someone left their doberman free to roam. So here I was standing there working hard to remain calm as the doberman’s bass woofer growl was making the hari on the back of my head stand up.

    I knew what to do about the dog, not that I had practiced, so it was all theory. But, we stood their facing each other down eyeball to eyeball. Intellect, struggling with the primal reactionary brain, the fear.

    Yes, it was belief that kept me from being attacked. The fear was still there in the infrastructure. Making the decisions on how to deal with the situation conqured the internal fear, and that alone let the dog relax, disengage, and find something more interesting to do.

    Waiting wasn’t an option. But, my optionis arose, because in my past I took the time to read some survial manual, particularly a section about how to deal with a large dog. Reading that stuff was a proactive decision.

    Decisions arrive. If the information has already arrived, you’re better off. If you have to act right now, then commit to the act and act. If you don’t have to act now, define the desired outcomes, then influence the environment to achieve those outcomes. Influencing requires action. So when a decision arrives, we always take some action, even if it is inaction. Decide not to act. Just don’t let a situation run out without making a decision to act or wait. You can decide to wait, and schedule the decision for a later date. Then, let it go until then.

    Control is like a codec that we might use to make something analog into something digital. We have to take the uncontrolled situation into a controlled situation. All it takes is a decision.

    Make the decision. Take the action, even if the action is to wait. Then, if you are waiting, let it go until the scheduled moment when you revisit the decision.

  3. David, your story of facing the dog — and being prepared for the situation — is a great example of how to overcome the paralysis of inaction. Prepare, then act (even if the action is to hold perfectly still).

    I completely agree that the decision to wait for later to make a decision is valid, and extremely important in many cases. Decisions should be made with as much information as possible.

    What does not work is to wring your hands and worry and think that if we wait to make the decision it will get easier. -Michael

  4. Woof. This post aged well.

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