Is “Pong Brain” Keeping You from Making Decisions?


Remember the video game Pong?

[George] I’m a decent Ping Pong player. But I haven’t mastered Pong by any means. Although, I found something harder than beating the computer – convincing Mary-Lynn I was conducting research for this post!

[Mary-Lynn] I’m still not buying it.

But we’re not here to talk about playing Pong. We want to talk about how the game relates to our brains and decision-making.

Is your brain stuck in a perpetual game of Pong?

As we coach people, we often hear them describe a challenge: They have too many ideas. It keeps them stuck.

They bounce back and forth like a ball between paddles. Just when they think they can make a decision, a new piece of information pops up.

Now they’re back to indecision. The game continues to repeat.

Have you experienced this phenomenon? We certainly have.

More importantly, what can you do about it?

Why this happens today

Before we answer that question, let’s talk about why this happens. There are two reasons.

The first reason is relatively new. We feel better when given a choice. So over time, marketers have responded with more options.

Steven Cristol and Peter Sealey showcased the problem in their book, Simplicity Marketing:

Before you run to the grocery store, you make a list of six items: orange juice, bagels, Philadelphia cream cheese, Crest toothpaste, Coke and lettuce.

In 1970, you would have had a choice of 50 items with that list. By 1998, you would have to filter through 250 products.

Imagine what it is today!

The second reason is the need to get it perfect. For most people, this really only applies to major decisions.

This perfectionism is generally driven by fear. We’re afraid we may find out later that there was a better option.

So we do nothing. Ironically, that’s often the worst option, especially in today’s fast-moving world.

Now we’re ready for the question posed earlier: What can you do about it?

Understand what it’s costing you

Time is money, right? So what’s indecision costing you? Let’s consider a simple example.

Diminishing Returns Matrix

Let’s say you are conducting research about a potential opportunity. You work for five hours on this project.

Using the Pareto Principle, we’ll assume that, in each hour, you’re able to gather 80% of all remaining insights.

So in the first hour – when 100% of the task is yet to be accomplished – you get 80% of all potential new information.

In the second hour – with only 20% of all potential information remaining – you’re able to gain 16% (20% remaining x 80%) of all the information available.

Let’s stipulate that each percentage is equal to $1.

We see in the first hour, you make $80. But in the second hour, you only make $16. By the third hour, you only make $3.20.

So what’s the cost of delaying your decision?

Let’s look at Hour 5. You will make 13 cents if you’re still working on this project. Alternatively, you could be in Hour 1 on another project, earning $80.

So delaying your decision cost you $79.87 an hour!

Now do you see the diminishing returns on further investment of your time?

Does this apply to all major decisions? No.

Does it apply to the overwhelming majority of them? Absolutely.

We suggest you bookmark this article. Then when you’re delaying a decision, you can quickly pull it up so you make the best use of your time.

But we’re not through yet…

You can test so many ideas today without any real risk. So making a decision allows you to start testing.

This is a lean startup principle. You don’t have to get it perfect. You just have to get started.

Why be in a hurry to start? Because that’s where the real education begins.

If you start and your competitor doesn’t, you will probably win.


Because you’ll gain insights they can’t get from research. You’re learning about how the real world works and what real people want.

It’s street smart versus book smart. There’s a place for both. But you want to take it to the streets sooner, rather than later. So…

Set a due date for your decisions. Decide to decide
by a certain day.

Then push to get all the information you want by that date. And then…

Work to make a decision and then make that decision work! It leads to BIGG success!

Have you experienced “pong brain”? How have you gotten past it?

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