Gut & Data: Two sources of direction

This post is inspired by a wonderful quote from Duncan Watts, of Yahoo Research, made on this McKinsey Quarterly podcast (May 2011):

“Our enthusiasm for making predictions is matched only by our reluctance to be held accountable for them.”

While difficult to do in a corporate environment, as Duncan Watts rightly suggests, the chances are that the act of tracking and publishing predictions would help foster an air of accountability and, thus, could be extremely transformative for the enterprise.

Intuitive leadership

Apple logo

Missing data?

This interview got me thinking about the role of the gut and instinct in enterprise.  Not only does acting on instinct require a fine ability to listen to oneself, it takes wonderful words of persuasion to galvanize support around your intuition and gut prediction.  Think of Steve Jobs’ ability to conjure up a gut idea and push it through the system.  In my experience at L’Oréal, I think back to the strong and masterful impulsions given by CEO, Lindsay Owen-Jones.  Predicting consumer behavior without holding the person responsible for those gut predictions, however, is akin to wasting money; yet, it is still a very common practice.  Public companies must bear their counts to the shareholder.   Companies that promote “intuitive leadership” are less prone to decision-making via “statistics” and vice versa.  It would be my belief that there is a place for both; however, with the general availability of numbers on the web, will that always be the case?

Digital Marketing run by Data?

It is quite true that you can make numbers say anything you want.  I personally saw the effectsInternet data intuition idea of poorly framed surveys and, worse, wrongfully gained insights from consumer roundtables (gained through rose tinted glasses).  The glory of the online digital marketing world is that numbers exist by the score.  Online, there are now many ways to track data — it seems unfathomable that companies are not using the data better.  Data driven marketing (e.g. “bucket testing”) and crowd-sourced innovation are marvelous tools, yet seemingly at loggerheads with the intuitive marketer.

Can both lie comfortably within a single organization?

Personally, I feel that intuition is a hugely important arm.  You need to be able to act with a certain degree of spontaneity, otherwise analysis paralysis can set in.  In today’s “speedy” world where things ought to happen and decisions need to be taken in “real time,” it is vital to be able to streamline the decision making process.  People need to feel empowered to act on their own.  On the other hand, it seems equally important to access and utilize the masses of data that are easily available.  Is this another case of promoting a balanced right brain/left brain approach to marketing and leadership, in general (cf Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind)?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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