Using Intuition to make Decisions

The other day I was in the midst of an interesting lunch conversation when my lunch partner said something that hit home:

“The Entrepreneurs in the organization are the ones with the latitude to use intuition to make important decisions.  Not only do they have the right to use intuition, but the responsibility.”

Boom.

That hit me like a ton of bricks. 

It was so spot on that my brain had to spend 100% of its cycles for 5 full seconds to process it.

As our organization at FullContact has grown, I have seen the rise of “data-driven decision making” grow as well.

To be honest, as a fast moving, action oriented entrepreneur, sometimes the reliance of “data driven decision making” as the primary tool in the toolbox makes me want to scream.

It makes me want to scream because often these “data driven decisions” have some of the following characteristics:

  • The data was gathered improperly
  • The data is inaccurate
  • The data is incomplete
  • The data is used without context
  • The data is purely quantitative, and lacks qualitative aspects
  • The data lacks analysis and deep understanding
  • The analysis of the data is not mathematically sound
  • The collection of data is used to simply to cover our asses
  • Because of the difficulty of gathering the data, the decision gets made slowly

Don’t get me wrong – I actually am a data nut.  I just think often it is used improperly and not enough people know how to use the scientific method (something we are all taught in grade school!)

But there are simply things in business that require intuition.  My counterpart at lunch gave the example of a trade show booth.

If a trade show booth looks like shit – disheveled, disorganized, unprofessional – your intuition tells you this.  

If I said “the booth looks like complete shit, let’s clean it up” and someone said “well, we don’t have data on that – let’s A/B test it!” my lizard brain would probably take over and I would likely use a series of four letter expletives before rejecting that idea.

The expense and difficulty of A/B testing the cleanliness of a trade show booth, not to mention the dubiousness of the results, would make it a pointless exercise.
But, in today’s world where data is pervasive and A/B tests can be conducted constantly, it feels like using “hard data” is immediately where people head to seek refuge instead of trusting intuition.

Intuition is simply the brain’s interpretation of all the disparate data collected over a long period of time through experience.

The entrepreneur has this intuition because, as my counterpart at lunch said: “The entrepreneurs are the ones who have been at it for 5 years straight, have been going to bed thinking about it, dreaming about it, waking up thinking about it.  Nobody else is devoting those kinds of brain cycles to process the data and generate an intuitive response.”

Often, other members of the organization develop the same type of intuition, but it takes awhile.  

To develop this intuition, you have to get a lot of exposure to users, prospects, customers, the market, competitors, investors, and understand how they are interrelated and changing over time.

Past experience plays a huge role here and there are certain decisions that simply require a lot of intuition:

  • Making an acquisition
  • Launching a new product line
  • Investor selection
  • Visual aesthetics
  • Company vision and purpose
  • Technology selection

I could go on and on and on.

Bottom line: as an entrepreneur, it’s OK to make an intuitive decision – just be intentional and upfront about it.  Say “My intuition tells me….” rather than try to pretend to use data to justify a decision that is really an instinctual one.

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