Friday, September 25, 2009

Analysis Paralysis, and great stories I won't use.

Schools Submitted: 0*/6 (Schools ready: ~4/6)
First Deadline: 6 days
Essays Submitted: 12/30(ish)

Everyone's heard of analysis paralysis - where you are psychologically trapped by too many options and end up unable to make a decision. There are actually usability studies about the danger of giving your customers too many choices; they don't buy anything!

In late night conversations with the peer that's been my MBA-App wingman, nothing has come up more lately than our analysis paralysis. We both have solid essays, but we'll pick them up at 10PM at night and find thousands of nitpicks, or things we wanted to add, and spend hours getting lost in the trees, and at times end up burning part of the forest down in the process. I completely mangled an essay on Tuesday as a result. Fortunately, Google docs has revision history log, so I just reverted to the previous day's version. I love technology!

There's also analysis paralysis around choices of topic. I've written a lot of drafts, and in many cases I have two or three essays for a question and I'm trying to decide what tells the most about me in relation to an MBA and how it fits with other essays and the data entry. This means cutting stuff that I like; I had a mistake/personal improvement experience that certainly wasn't extraordinary or superhuman, but it's one of my favorite life-changing moments.

Gist of the story I wish I was telling in one of my essays:
Took a foreign language class outside school, my TA was a giant muscled body builder; I assumed he was an idiot. Got shown his book at the end of class, turned out he was a surgeon, artist, and humanitarian who'd attended an ivy league. Er, whoops.

Also, he'd been as scrawny as I was in college... and had written a book on bodybuilding and his experience gaining weight. I put on 30 lbs in college with him as inspiration, and bodybuilding taught me about discipline and nutrition, as well as building my confidence significantly.

The discipline and nutrition came in quite handy both for dropping weight after a year or two of being a little too sedative from work, and for healing my collarbone fast enough to get back into a championship game for my team in the same season I broke it. The confidence bit is, well, confidence is really good stuff to have. Helps out in life, y'know.

Why am I not telling this story? I have more dramatic and impactful stories, and while this is one of my favorite mistakes, it doesn't tell much about me other than I used to be a scrawny, judgmental kid that gained some knowledge/confidence in the gym. I really wish HBS asked 'what are your three most significant accomplishments, and why' rather than substantial, as I would throw bodybuilding into significant, but not substantial. But then I'd have to revisit that school's essays, and I've forced myself to put them down for now.

Ah well, "Praise the lord and pass the (caffeine)" ... back to finalizing. If anyone has tips on dealing with analysis paralysis, please share. I lapse into a state of ultra-analysis after 2 or 3 hours of essaying now; great for programming and model/data work, terrible for essays.

Edit 1: My own tip: Body-mind connection. My head dips in when I start to focus. I literally am snapping my head back and shaking it to reorient. It does work!


  1. dunno if this is scientific, but when im hit with analysis paralysis, i just switch off for that day and start work the next day.

    also, i rely a lot on my gut instinct.

  2. I wrote about this same situation in my blog but good to know that it has a name. Its cool that you have a wingman. I have one solution for analysis paralysis that sometimes work. I get up an hour earlier and somehow having tea during that time gives me some fresh thoughts to write on my essays. But the catch is its difficult to get up early after an exhaustive day at work.

  3. I thing I do regularly when I am facing paralysis is to set a hard deadline for myself. For instance, when writing up a case study, I set 30 minutes to write an outline, 60 minutes to write a first draft, then stop working. The next day, I'll set 30 minutes for reviewing the material, 30 minutes to review for grammar, then stop.

    At that point, I have a fully submittable version of the assignment. Wait for a few days. From there, I either start over, or I'm done.

    The one thing I'll offer here specific to your essays is the same advice I gave to Rocky: write about yourself. If you think your bodybuilder story captures the true essence of "you", then that is what you should write about (where appropriate). Adcoms read hundreds, if not thousands, of essays…they know when you are passionate about your essay, and when you are trying to write to what you think they want to here.

    Good luck!
    Randy, Fuqua '10

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