Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Analysis vs. Synthesis or Analysis and Synthesis

There are a multitude of courses at many Universities with the word analysis in the title but relatively few courses with the word synthesis. Many Universities have a course called Decision Analysis but I don’t know of any having a course called Decision Synthesis.

When someone tries to explain how they came to a decision, they often say something like “After a careful analysis, …”

The truth is that while analysis is an important part of decision making, analysis without synthesis is almost worthless. The converse is also true.

Dictionaries define analysis as something like the following: the separating of any material or abstract entity into its constituent elements (opposed to synthesis)

Dictionaries define synthesis as something like the following:
The combining of the constituent elements of separate material or abstract entities into a single or unified entity (opposed to analysis).

So while dictionaries define analysis and synthesis as opposites of one another, when it comes to decision making they are necessary complements of one another.

Most organizations have top level managers, mid level managers, supervisory managers, technicians and other experts, each capable of doing an analysis on one or more facets of a complex decision. However, few organizations know how to perform a synthesis of these analyses. In order for an organization to make a rational decision—that is a decision that best achieves the multitude of their objectives, they must be able to synthesize as well as analyze.


Richard said...

Great post, Jim. I would add that as we struggle with growing options and exploding data, we are increasingly drawn to information that has already been synthesized for us. Although we pride ourselves for our free will and independent thinking, we prefer that others sort through the confusion for us. Just think about a good friend's movie picks, or a well-respected brand name when compared to a generic. This is also why we love top 10 lists and chef’s specials: they are pre-made decisions.

We use pre-synthesized packages of information every day to navigate a complex and disorganized world. The trouble is... more and more of this world is determined by someone else.


Ern Reynolds said...

Analysis is reductive. Synthesis is holistic.
The basis for political centrism is a pairing or teaming: reductive analysis coupled with holistic sythesis. It's the Central Regulatory Model combined with local autonomy, an impregnable base plus freedom of movement, at once hierarchic and egalitarian. This yokes together conflict and conjunction.

Tom Hopper said...

Excellent post, which also happens to apply to science. While many people focus on the "reductionist," or analysis, component of science, developing a deeper understanding of the phenomenon under study is only possible through the synthesis that follows analysis.

Your approach to decision making might therefore be described as the scientific approach to decision making or, perhaps, as an analog to science (they are different domains and different in details, but certainly resemble each other).

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A. Rajendran said...

Excellent post. Just thought I would add what I wrote as part of writing a book for Business Intelligence: Analysis = See - Facts. Synthesis = Know - Insights. Analysis+Synthesis = Good Decisions.

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