Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Staying Out Of The Overthinking Trap

To meet potential and avoid the traps of inertia caused by overthinking and myopia, pragmatic leaders must support robust discovery and focused delivery.

overthinkingOrganizations that embark on the endless journey of spending too much time analyzing, discussing, researching, and testing a new idea, without getting anything off the ground, are victims of the overthinking trap. With the overthinking trap, teams spend so much time processing an idea that they never achieve anything. No one—neither team members nor the leader—is prepared to risk taking that important first step of transforming the idea into a concrete innovation.

Consequently, the organization wastes precious time and money, throwing away the opportunity to move toward real innovation. For Kodak, the leap from the short-term trap to the overthinking trap was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Kodak’s troubled launch of the Advantix hybrid film and digital camera, which allowed users to choose the best shot to print, showed the perils of the deliberation trap. It took over twenty years—from the introduction of “filmless photography” (which was greeted with a degree of bewilderment and puzzlement) to the 1996 product release. Kodak spent too much time and $500 million deliberating and analyzing, and consequently was too late to be a player in the digital age.

These cognitive traps create myopic thinking that leads to inertia, preventing organizations from reaching their potential. Such traps are cognitive blinders that steer leaders away from taking bold steps, pulling the plug, redirecting their efforts to their strengths, favoring the present over the future, and taking too long to launch an idea because there needs to be another meeting. Leaders of organizations of all sizes should not ignore the potential danger of these traps. Once a trap is triggered, even well-established organizations can slip down a sinkhole of myopia and be stymied by inertia. The leadership challenge is to identify and disable the traps that can prevent the movement of ideas to execution.

Why do organizations sometimes get stuck? What makes them sluggish? There are two fundamental reasons why organizations experience inertia. The first source of inertia is the clunky tendency. The clunky tendency is usually found in complex organizations, with complicated structures, overlapping missions, unintegrated units, confused lines of authority, and a general sense of organized anarchy. The second source of inertia is the myopic tendency.

Organizations with myopic tendencies are trapped in old ways of doing things and old business models. Clunky or myopic tendencies do not immediately result in organizational failure, but they do result in sluggishness, a slow slope that may lead to failure. Having understood why the organization is sluggish and having evaluated the organization’s clunky and myopic tendencies, the pragmatic leadership challenge is to overcome the resulting inertia and ensure that the organization reaches its potential.

All organizations encounter some degree of inertia. Inertia is manifested by sluggish discovery or sluggish delivery. The leaders of organizations that actively work toward breaking inertia understand that to thrive and reach their potential it is important to continuously engage in robust discovery and focused delivery. They ensure that organizations and units can adapt to new trends and deliver concrete results and innovation. To do so, leaders have to lead with flexibility and agility and create collective organizational synergy.  They don’t dig holes they can’t get out of—that is, they don’t tie themselves to specific products, processes, or customers—but they make sure their organization stays ahead of the game.

The leadership of Amazon and Google (Alphabet) for example are visionaries and pragmatic leaders. When pragmatic leaders are on top of industry trends and have a passion for experimentation, the organizational capacity to discover is transformed. When pragmatic leaders understand how to establish connections with the right people and move their agenda to fruition, it translates into the organizational capability of delivery.

To meet potential and avoid the traps of inertia caused by “clunkiness” and myopia, pragmatic leaders must support robust discovery and focused delivery. To ensure robust discovery, pragmatic leaders must create an environment where ideas can ferment. To ensure focused delivery, pragmatic leaders must create an environment where units and individuals can reach across divisions, turf, and silos to collectively move ideas ahead and make sure that flexibility and focus sustain the momentum to drive implementation.

Related3 Ways To Engage Your Workforce and Reap the Rewards


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.