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Should Big Decisions Be Based on Data or Your Intuition?

The new gold, oil, and soil: Data. A wide variety of invaluable products, services, and progress are arising from data. However, don’t you think data is just mere symbols or numbers, furthermore just 0s and 1s. This is true for complex models or when we talk about solving a machine learning classification problem where variables are predicted either zeros or ones to match the respective different variables. To sum it all, in most areas of life, we need human expertise to translate data into meaning and the desire to act on meaningful insights. ultimately making it a data-driven decision.

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Let us run through our day to understand how we operate on these data insights and how many of our actions are driven in the right direction. We are not data scientists, yet in many domains of life, we operate on principles set by data. Consider scenarios like deciding to buy a product that Amazon has recommended to you or watching a movie that Netflix has suggested, or listening to a song that Spotify matched to your preferences, you are making data-driven changes to your life.Adding more on the same thoughts, using Google Maps to decide which route is best for biking or driving), checking the weather forecast before you get dressed, you are being data-driven.

Interestingly, an average consumer of the 21st century makes data-driven decisions significantly more than their counterparts 20 years ago. Back then, life was way more spontaneous and error-prone. There are certain sections of today’s work where human’s intuitions, bias, and gut play a stronger role. The dynamics of work have definitely become fact-driven or scenario-driven.

Did you know, many fortune 500 companies are not data-driven in their talent management practices. Despite the known fact that people will enjoy their job more when their personality and personal values match the role. However, a large portion of those people are unhappy with their jobs or are unproductive.

Over my experiences at interviews and workplaces, I have noticed the tendency to hire/promote based on confidence rather than competence. Candidates who can charm/impress/manipulate under that short duration have higher chances to succeed in their career as compared to those who deliver successfully and add value as a whole to the organization. Don’t get me wrong here, I always support hard work pays off. But at times, if you do not have the confidence and approach to the right words, you are left behind. These experiences make me feel, sometimes, we live in a world where all style and no substance will get you farther than no style and all substance.

Calm down, I don’t wish to piss you off! Hear me out once. How do you define performance? Isn’t performance the hardest to measure where it matters the most? There is an adequate amount of research and theory on this topic, data-driven approaches as well as conceptual parameters, but all of this works best at low levels of business. This works well when you have similar tasks, repetitive tasks, and huge amounts of data volume, you can define metrics that assess the individual quality! This works well in the case of an uber driver. Accessing the driver over the number of rides, the average customer rating, or even how many fines or accidents the driver was involved in. This assessment gets difficult when you go up the ladder. How do you establish the measure for Donald Trump at his job? The stakes are way higher than at Uber. Does this get complicated? Wait, think about what would Tesla be without Elon Musk or Apple be without Steve Jobs. On the lines of data-driven approaches, the answer is “Can’t Determine” Think on the same question from your intuition’s perspective.

Considering the following scenarios at a broader level, let us define scenarios to choose between data-driven or gut-instinct data.

#Data has answers to What, Why & How?

Numbers are great at telling you what is happening, little more digging gives you how it is happening.

Say, for example, your daily active users dropped 20 percent in one month but tests show that everything is operating normally. If you reach out to inactive customers for feedback, you might discover that a competitor app is offering new features that your product lacks — causing attrition. You can then find out why they like the features to design something better.

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#Bold new idea? You need data but don’t ignore your gut instinct

At first big ideas often sound crazy. The concept of riding in a stranger’s car (Uber) or staying in someone else’s house on vacation (Airbnb) seemed unlikely to succeed just a decade ago. The limited amount of data at that time would have not supported your bold vision. So you have to trust your gut instinct and the feedback from early adopters.

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#When your values contradict the data: Gut instinct

Every company has its foundation in its values and policies. The right decision should not always weigh based on revenue and performance indicators. A company’s values should weigh just as heavily as hard data — if not more — when making decisions. With board members breathing down your neck, it’s hard to say no to activities that boost financial metrics. But if something feels wrong, it probably is. Trust your gut and advocate for values over short-term success.

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As Stephen Hawking noted, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.” If organizations and their leaders want to embrace evidence-based practices and data-driven decisions, there is only one logical starting point: be sufficiently humble, self-critical, and curious to understand that your instincts and intuition may be wrong and avoid being fooled by your gut feeling just because it feels good. The way you make decisions define far more than your bottom line — it shapes your culture and brand. So, consider the broader impact when you select your metrics for success.

Last updated: May 12, 2021