Analysis and evidence-based decision making VERSUS intuition and experience

Explicit, analytical thought is powerful; it moves a person to make personal and professional decisions based on gathering, assessing, and using evidence garnered through research. Not a day goes by without reading about advances in digital analytics or new ways to analyze big data.  Making personal and business decisions based on an implicit, intuitive perspective, however, is just as powerful and profound — though enigmatically inexplicable. While both decision-making strategies can be argued by steadfast advocates of each to be the best (or only), way to make choices, being flexible and open-minded to explore, consider, and embrace both is ultimately the best strategy.

Going with the gut.

Analysis and evidence-based decision making VERSUS intuition and experienceListening to your intuition about a decision you are about to make has its benefits. Going with what you think and feel based on your knowledge and prior experience is a much quicker way to make a decision than spending hours, days, or even longer researching the particular pros and cons of a subject. If you’re considering buying a building, for example, your initiation may tell you that the location is perfect, the price is right, and that it’s serendipity that you just happened to drive down that street and see the “For Sale” sign. Perhaps, from your previous commercial-real-estate-buying experience, the intuition-based decision-making strategy will work well.  

In addition to being a decision-making strategy that is much quicker to make than a decision made employing the evidence-based strategy, intuition is free. What your “gut” inspires you to do—based on your experience and feelings – doesn’t cost anything monetarily, at least in the short term. Relying on evidence-based facts, however, can cost a lot. If you’re a business owner and want to hire someone to do research on a particular product or marketing strategy, you can easily spend thousands of dollars. Of course, one of the problems with relying on research and evidence-based findings is that there is no guarantee you have exhausted every study on the subject, are privy to the most current and relevant research, and have interpreted the findings correctly.  And, as we know from investment decisions, the past is not always a good indicator of the future.

Professor Henry Mintzberg – a highly-respected Canadian author and academic at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University in Montreal,  Canada believes that business schools, management programs, and business leaders are too obsessed with numbers, data, and making the process of management a science (vs. an art). As a proponent of action learning and making decisions based on insights acquired from one’s own challenges and experience, Mintzberg believes there is value business leaders also making intuitive-inspired decisions because, “You know for sure, but you don’t know why!”

Intuition uses experience; decisions are not solely based on formal evidence found in peer-reviewed articles, referenced white papers, or scholarly studies. Evidence that relies on whatever the available body of facts or information the decision-maker takes the time to locate, internalize, and understand. 

Prove it.

Research-based evidence allows us see if our intuition is right.  However, how often do individuals who make their personal and professional decisions based on intuition check these decisions against data to see if they were right?  Or, do they chalk it up as “experience” and move on. The challenge with relying solely on intuition and experience is that so much is resting on just how much experience the decision-maker has. The less personal experience someone has on a subject, the more likely that “intuition” will be based more on a hunch than on years of accumulated real-world experience. The benefit of choosing an evidence-based decision-making strategy is the confidence that one has because scientists or other qualified persons have conducted the research or analyzed the data.  Rightly or wrongly, this often leads to data based decision-making trumping decision-making based on experience.

Organizations are not just about data.

While statistics, graphs, charts, and reports satiated with data may be helpful and useful in rationalizing why something is being done, or should be implemented, those resources do not instantaneously transform into relevant insights and better management decisions.  Just as running a business exclusively on intuition does not promise success at every turn, making decisions solely on evidence-based practices (EDPs) fails to acknowledge that customers and staff are not simply data points on a graph.  

The ideal decision-making strategy is a combination of the two – embracing both evidence-based and experience-based initiatives. When a decision needs to be made, rather than relying on one’s intuition, a good manager will supplement with applicable and meaningful data.  The data can then analyzed and turned into relevant insights that can form the foundation for the outcomes required.  The “facts” found in the research, combined with one’s intuition and experience, can create a result that is an effective, relevant combination of the two strategies.

Putting the strategy choices into action.

Participants in the “Analytic Mindset” Module of the International Masters Program for Managers (IMPM) explore this choice of strategies in depth.   In workshops, they share their experiences with both methods of decision-making.  Upon returning to their workplaces they can apply these insights to the challenges they are facing within their organizations.

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