The tension between analytics and intuition

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In a recent conversation I had with a high level decision maker in a large organization I was asked why an existing set of data and analytics did not support their intuition? The individual wanted to stand on a data driven decision, but could not ignore the evident disconnect between what they saw and what they felt. Does this sound familiar?

The number of answers to this simple question are vast. It could be the analytics was flawed; it could be their intuition was biased; it could be that our information on the decision was incomplete; and then there are a myriad of variations on these these three themes.

After reflecting on this divergent problem I listed three interesting sources of divergence.

1. Final decisions are made by individuals, but decision analysis is done by a team.

2. Intuition is about a final decision, while analytics is about informing a final decision.

3. Analytics is about process, intuition is about action.

I am speculating that this divergence arises from the fact that the use of intuition and analytics are more appropriate depending on what stage you are at in a decision process. Intuition doesn't emerge by magic but is rather a collection of information and experience, organized into mental models, which inform and shape our intuition and eventual action.

In almost all of my client engagements, decision-makers rely on intuition to make a final decision, but if the process of collecting, organizing and analyzing relevant information is completed early in a decision process this almost always impacts the final decision-makers sense of intuition.

If we model our options early, but trust our intuition for a final decision then we can focus on these competing forces at the appropriate stage in the process and we are less likely to allow intuition to unduly influenced our analytics or to allow analytics to unduly influenced our intuition.

To facilitate in this mental exercise I find it useful to establish an “Intuition Vacation” where intuition is “placed on the shelf” while a process of analysis is completed within a discreet time frame. At the end of that time frame, intuition is reinserted back into the process and we test whether or not our intuition has been influenced by the model or analytics that we have created

An “Intuition Vacation” is also useful because the people completing analysis are reporting UP to individuals making final decisions.

If the bias of the decision-maker is shared too early then the analyst is often tempted to support and encourage the intuition of the decision-maker, because this is the path of least resistance for the analyst.

Have you experienced this tension in you own decision process? How do you manage it?

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About Brian

Innovation & Strategy Specialist; Focus on Innovation Roadmapping & Business Modeling; Husband, Father, Systems Thinker, Babson MBA, Triathlete. View all posts by Brian →

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