Data Vs Instinct – The Match Off!
Data…Instinct… Data…Instinct… a conflict I am faced with day in and day out. What do I use as weight on a balance scale to help me make the right business decision? Data or instinct!
So I looked around to reach a conclusive decision. I saw the geek, who paralyzes both data and work with analysis. I saw Mr. Heart who trashed any data that came his way and only listened to the ‘inner voice.’ I also saw the Buddhas’ who trod the middle path. All I had to do is sit in a tennis lawn and I could well be seeing a tennis match. Sigh…I was getting nowhere and ‘the plunge’ seemed inevitable. The one they call Technology. It is almost oxymoronic a medium; isn’t technology a data facilitator? So how does technology become the impartial medium for such a discussion? But it had to be done. One question “What do you prefer: data or instinct?” and little did I anticipate the enormous perspective my LinkedIn contacts world would greet me with. Data: Instinct – 15: 0
Interestingly most supporters’ of data came with a rider: go with data, but ensure data accuracy! A premature theory based on insufficient data is a deadly trap! Data: Instinct – 30: love.
Did you know Albert Einstein relied on gut? According to him, the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. Intuition is supra logic. Data: Instinct – 30: 15.
Data activists reiterate the fact that it is only data that can help you look at scenarios objectively. Data: Instinct – Game point: 15.
So what is data then? Data are the qualitative or quantitative attributes of a variable or set of variables. Note, the focus here, is not just on the quantitative aspect. So then, despite having a clear definition in place, why do we tend to look at data and instinct as two different entities? Data: Instinct – 40: 30
Aren’t the very foundations of Mathematics based on a set of assumptions? Take for example the much celebrated Euclidian Geometry. It is based on a set of 5 axioms. And what are these axioms? Axioms are but assumptions given to be true in a particular subfield. Deuce.
The crossroads got more and more argumentative and less decisive. Of the 62% who said both data and instinct; a significant 7% said instinct is but a decision made through data collected subconsciously through years of experience! A novice may definitely find solace in data, while a seasoned expert would attribute his decisions to his gut. (Remember those ‘I TOLD YOU SO moments’…).
Prashanta Mukhopadhyaya Analytical CRM @ Bharti AXA General Insurance threw a very interesting definition of instinct from the Wikipedia which shatters the very premise of the argument. “Any behavior is instinctive if it is so performed without being based on prior experience” Ouch…!!
Resmi K L Sr Business Analyst at Capital One brings a very different perspective to the debate. She argues one cannot escape from the gut. Even in our quest to be analytical and rational we end up being guided by the gut.
Harshad Natu a Sales & Marketing Professional from NY: ‘Data can be mathematically sliced , diced and transformed to prove or disprove points of views’ This perhaps is the biggest fallacy of data too. Think about it! How many times have you spruced data to arrive at the result you want?
I also had respondents saying, using data or instinct essentially depends on the situation you are faced with. There may be moments of urgency when you have no choice but to rely on your instinct. 73% of surgeons have admitted to relying on their gut when they get into the operation theatre. Same is the case with a rescue worker.
Nisha Ninan, Head Human Resources – Symbian India at Nokia true to her HR style suggests it is your personality that will ultimately decide what you choose. A Myers-Briggs Type Indicator will reveal, for the intuition type, it would be instinct while for the sensing type it would be data.
After hours of reading verbal deliberations, realization set in that in the data vs instinct saga, only a healthy mix would lead the right business decision. As Madhumita Mohnaty General Manager at Reliance Jewels rightly said, let’s get rid of the ‘tyranny of the OR.’ Let us learn to look at data and Instinct holistically, without being biased. And doing it correctly would need this 3 step guide:
- Never ignore Data: You may be allergic to data and numbers, but data, when available is meant to be utilized. Careful analysis of data always has the uncanny knack of providing you a different perspective. Let me warn you though, do NOT over do it!
- Avoid psychological conditioning: Look at the issue with an open mind. Never jump to solutions and then try and reverse engineer your solution.
- If the whisper from within is strong and persistent, go ahead pay heed!
In the end, what matters is bracing your-self to face the outcome whatever it is! Taleb in his famous Black Swan exhorts us to build robustness to face negative outcomes. Let us accept, we are all subject to hazardous outcomes that cannot be predicted even with the most sophisticated models in place. Whether you use data or instinct your goal remains to be prepared for the black swan and turn the black swans to white.
PS: Thank you LinkedIn for setting up the platform for such a terrific debate! And to all the respondents who participated… I owe you one!!