Does Data win over Intuition in driving business decisions?

This is a question many executives asks themselves.

But here’s the real question you should really ask: Is intuition really independent of data points? Business leaders typically have business data on their fingertips. So, even the so-called intuitive decision making is not completely independent of data.

Conversely, is data-driven decision making totally devoid of intuitive factors? Do modern data science techniques uncover insights/predictions without an intuitive input?

While intuition is driven by familiar data points, data analytics is equally dependent on intuitive understanding of data concepts and characteristics. Data-driven decision making becomes easier and more rewarding when we realise that the two are dependent on each other.

Here are five reasons why the interplay between Data and Intuition is vital to unlock value.

1. Data can back up Intuition

Intuition is popularly called ‘gut feel’. This gives it an almost magical quality. You either have it or you don’t. However, gut feel is difficult to put into words. By the time you lay it all out, you’ve already lost the attention of your client or your team.

Gut feel is nothing but tapping into your learnings from past experiences, and creatively applying them to the present situation. When you look at it like this, data becomes a vital tool to validate your gut feel, and communicate it with others.

Intuition backed by data is simply more tenacious and convincing.

2. Intuition Initiates, Data Follows Through

Let’s take an example. You have an intuition that there is dissent within your organization. While this is a good place to start, there isn’t enough information for you to take the next few steps to resolve the problem.

You will need to know what is causing the dissent, who are the primary influencers, when did it take the turn of dissent from dissatisfaction, and who are at the helm of this change.

Employee surveys cannot, by themselves, give any insight, if you don’t know what to ask your employees. Hence, intuition needs understanding of the underlying data and follow the cue.

3. Data improves your Intuition

Intuitions are extremely effective. However, they can also be wrong at times. Data can confirm whether your intuitions were right or wrong. With time, your intuition actually starts getting even better – all thanks to the data.

As Malcom Gladwell puts it, “Our first impressions are generated by our experiences and our environment, which means that we can change our first impressions . . . by changing the experiences that comprise those impressions.”

Now, let’s flip the coin and look at how intuition helps data.

4. Intuition Allows You To Read Data Effectively

A first look at thousands of rows of data can tire your eyes. Intuition helps you identify the data points that you are familiar with and are relevant to real-world improvement. EDA or Exploratory Data Analytics is a key step in the data science world. It helps data scientists build their intuition about the raw data in front of their eyes. Intuition helps us distinguish between the large variety of data points and their correlation to the cause or effect.

5. Interpretation and contextualization can only be done by humans

Do data analytical techniques fetch us direct results of what to do and what not to? The mathematical or statistical results bank on our intuitive abilities to correlate results to the next plausible action. Interpretation is still a big job that machines will take a long time to take over. Mathematical results will not be able to take a humanly acceptable format until their interpretation falls in place.

It is safe to conclude that both Data and Intuition are key to taking effective action. And effective managers in turn allow a free interaction between them.

In a world of incessantly growing big data, it is easy to tune into data-reliant decisions and turning off our intuitions completely or vice versa. What we really need is a balance and a fair judgement of areas where only one of them can independently do well. In all other places, they are to be construed as ‘Equal Share Partners’.