Guts and Judgment in a Data-drunk World

I see it everywhere, especially on the few TV commercials I see. On billboards, posters, and all over public places. Data and analytics. 

Everyone is selling it. It's the hot thing. It might not be as hot as crypto or AI but every single major corporation is out there selling their use of data.

Some firms have made public commercials that laugh at gut feeling and denote data as the "be all and end all". 

"I rely far more on gut instincts than researching huge amounts of statistics..... I distrust numbers, which I feel can be twisted to prove anything." - Richard Branson

I remember back in my consulting days everyone was obsessed with being "more analytical" and being "data-driven". It was considered to be the "innovative" thing to do. Quite the oxymoron since you can't have "large/established corporations" and "innovating" truly in the same sentence since they're really not about taking any kind of risk. Even if there is an asymmetric payoff, these corporations will fail to see it. It's just natural. Lions will eat meat, you can't make them vegan. Facts are facts. 

I am all for being data-driven. Thanks to big data we have been able to make effective decisions and limit waste. Many companies like to boast that they are 'data-first' and now it's just common required language for any fast growing company to say they are using data, analytics and machine learning. However, I've grown to become more and more concerned with a departure from what makes us human..... judgment. 

Data is up to the interpretation of the reader. Hence, it is as flawed as the person that collects and analyses it. Even if one were to be "data first" I am skeptical of the person's ability to ignore self-affirming biases to rationalize the numbers to a preset belief the person has. I mean, that's what the pre-frontal cortex does. It rationalizes preset beliefs we hold dear to our hearts. So even with all the data we will not be free from error and least of all can't be so certain about a forecast. People are extremely poor at forecasting after all. 

"I can make a decision with 30% of the information ~ Anything more than 80% is too much." - Colin Powell

See, not all data is equal. 

It's rather the person who reads the data that makes the information either powerful or dangerous. Whether it was the dot com bubble or the 2007/2008 great financial crisis, the data was available to everyone and during that time everyone had their opinion on what the data was telling. People just used the data to validate their own beliefs and it was the inner judgment of those who believed something different that allowed them to focus on something different. 

You can even look at things a different way when starting a business. In restaurants, 95% fail. Yet 5% succeed. Some of the successful restaurateurs look at the 5% and start a restaurant, though if they looked at the data it's a bet they shouldn't have made. It was made by gut. Inner human judgment. It's because they wanted to start a restaurant and there was a gut instinct that they could not fight. It's similar for startups. Startups too have similar rates of failure yet plenty of people do it. Ignoring the now plenty "want-repreneurs" who like to follow the fashionable trend, the many missionary entrepreneurs who are out to solve a problem should not have embarked on the mission with the data on success vs. failure. Yet, to them that was not the data that mattered. They found other sets of data to back their decision. One they made with their gut, with human judgment. 

"If we were all rational, there would be no small businesses, there would be no exploration, there would be very little innovation and there would be no great leaders to inspire all those things." - Simon Sinek

Data is widely available. It's judgment that is lacking. The ability to stick to your gut and have conviction in something even if it is against consensus. Because believe it or not, most of the time, data isn't led by independent judgment but by consensus. 

I had all the data to support and reject my decision when I was in accounting. But I knew in my gut what had to be done. It didn't matter how many cons were in the side column. The pros that mattered to me outweighed any one of them.

"I believe in the power of wandering, all my best decisions in business and in life have been made with heart, intuition, guts. Not analysis. When you can with analysis you should do so but turns out the most important decisions in life are always made with instinct, intuition, taste and heart" - Jeff Bezos

Pros and cons lists are useful because it shows you the one point that matter most above all the other 30 points you write. There is one (maybe two) point that is the true form of your human judgment and everything else is what you wrote to support that one point. All the points against it won't matter. This seems to be how people make the biggest decisions in their lives. Starting a company, changing a career path, cutting a negative person out of their life, getting married, starting a family.... all not 'rational' things when looking at the data but ones you decide to do with your gut..... with judgment because it's what it is right for you. 

"Great leaders are those who trust their gut. They are those who understand the art before the science. They win hearts before minds. They are the ones who start with WHY." - Simon Sinek

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