Big Data vs. Intuition in Business Decisions (Part 2)

This post was cowritten by our fall intern, Angela Martin.

The desire to make better decisions as quickly as possible has led to an even bigger push around data and analytics, specifically in making data-driven decisions. But does intuition still play a role? A review of recent commentary suggests there are strong arguments on both sides of the man vs. machine debate. Here are some of the advantages we discovered about intuition-driven decisions. Read our previous installment about the advantages of data-driven decisions.

Advantages of Intuition

1) More opportunity for creativity and curiosity

Data lacks the curiosity and creativity that is necessary in business. In fact, creative breakthroughs often come out of curiosity.

In Fortune article delving into the data vs. intuition debate, contributing writer Tim Leberect explains that data, while able to predict new problems and find solutions cannot come up with new ideas. Humans are the only source that can take an idea and make it something completely new.

2) Ability to catch mistakes while challenging data

Sometimes there can be data mistakes or coding errors that impact the final result. If blindly trusted, data could lead companies toward faulty conclusions.

CIO cited a situation where a client ran an analytic study to determine if putting inserts in newspapers would drive sales. The results of the data driven study showed no difference in the performance of the test and the control. The client asked to have the data run again, and came out with the same result. Knowing that the findings couldn’t be correct, the client took a deeper look into the findings and discovered that the study had never actually been run.

Had client trusted the data, he or she would have been acting off faulty results. Intuition led to questioning the results, something that an analytic program could never do.

3) Leads to development of business objectives

Often times, business objectives start out with a gut feeling.

The Harvard Business Review suggests that intuition is like a hypothesis. You make an assumption based on what you think is going to happen, but you need to test your hypothesis with data in order to validate the assumption. In fact, author Tom Davenport suggests that intuition can be found in major big data projects.

“Google’s self-driving car, for example, is described by its leaders as a big data project. Sebastian Thrun, a Google Fellow and Stanford professor, leads the project. He had an intuition that self-driving cars were possible well before all the necessary data, maps, and infrastructure were available. Motivated in part by the death of a friend in a traffic accident, he said in an interview that he formed a team to address the problem at Stanford without knowing what he was doing.”

So who’s right?

In our view, both data and intuition are important in decision-making.

D&E Senior Advisor Dave Loomis points out that a combination of data and intuition is the true recipe for success: “When companies make decisions purely on data, they can lose the feel for the marketplace and sensitivity to customers, who are still human.  On the other hand, this is not art.  When flying by the seat of our pants, we won’t fly far – or fly in the wrong direction.”  

What’s your take on this subject? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you’re interested in discussing or learning more about big data vs. intuition join Dix & Eaton and other PR professionals at the Council of Public Relations Firms’ Critical Issues Forum in New York on Thursday, October 23. Leading the conversation will be Tedd Goff, co-founder of Precision Strategy and the Digital Director for President Obama’s re-election campaign, with Tim Leberech, CEO of NBBJ, and Claudia Perlich, chief scientist at Dstillery. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #PRGenome. 

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