Decision making

How do you make decisions?  We make many of them every day.  Some are as simple as what to wear or what to have for supper; others involve far more complex thinking and input from many sources.  The folks over at The Economist Intelligence Unit released a study on decision-making and I thought you might find some of what they discovered of interest.  You can read the entire thing here – it’s a 15 page document.

Let’s start with the conclusion:

Data are a highly prized commodity when it comes to making decisions. As The Economist Intelligence Unit’s survey shows, more senior managers consider themselves to be “data-driven” decision-makers than any other available option. And when asked what would improve decision-making, most choose “better ability to analyze data”…Intuition is also valued highly, even among decision-makers who consider themselves data-driven. Evidently both intuition and analysis contribute to effective decision-making, in business as in life. Rather than a weakness that must be avoided, intuition should instead be seen as a skill that is appropriate in the right circumstances.

I find that fascinating since many of the folks with whom I’ve worked over the years have gone out of their way to avoid “I think” in favor of “the data shows.”  There is a term in aviation – spatial disorientation – that refers to when a pilot’s perception of direction does not agree with reality.  They must use the aircraft’s instruments or risk flying themselves into trouble (as in “the ground”).  That’s an instance where intuition is a really bad idea – you must rely on the data.  The same is true as we fly our businesses.

There are business circumstances where data-driven decisions have to rule.  We as human business people don’t seem to like that:

“When making a decision, if the available data contradicted your gut feeling, what would you do?” By far the most popular response, with 57% of the sample, is “Re-analyze the data”. This is followed by “Collect more data”, chosen by 30%.

Who are you going to believe – me or your lying numbers, to paraphrase the old joke.  Maybe this is the art/science debate.  Parts of marketing should revolve around data (science) and some decisions must be based on your gut – art, in my mind.  While finance may be data-driven, designers need solid intuition.  Sometimes we don’t have the data we need or want.  Sometimes what we have overwhelms us or conflicts with itself.

I think the best outcomes are decisions made by people with vast experience who have seen reams of data over the years and understand when it’s relevant, even if it conflicts with their feelings.  I agree with the conclusion that intuition is a useful skill.  What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

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