Data & Intuition

Few years back, my friend explained how he understood the word ‘intuition’. Per him, the word is a possible derivation from ‘in-tutor’, which refers to the ‘tutor’ or the ‘guide’ inside each one of us. If that were to be true, we reflected why we find it difficult to follow our inner tutor while making important decisions. I think the reason we get jittery about following our own intuition is intuition is un-rational. What Mahatma Gandhi calls as the ‘inner voice’ in his autobiography is intuition (I believe).  Albert Einstein calls an intuitive mind a sacred gift that needs to be honored. Per Steve Jobs, intuition is the most important thing, even more important than intellect.

While intuition is instinctive, the other way to decide is through reason that happens primarily by analyzing data or the information we have at hand. Many business leaders have stressed the importance of data driven decisions as well. A quote of N.R. Narayana Murthy goes like this – In god we trust and everyone else come with data. Recently read an article about Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban Yahoo employees from working from home. The article cites Mayer’s obsession with data and metrics to help her decide.

While both forms of decision making (intuitive and data driven) look absolutely pertinent in our daily lives, this blog is an attempt to resolve a personal dilemma i.e. what should prevail when one is forced to choose? As a BI practitioner, I can fully appreciate the importance of data and metrics. I continue to see it add value in business and in my personal life. But I’m sure all of us would have crossed those unique moments in life through gut, hunch or intuition. I also believe intuition is more fundamental an experience to inference.

I recently stumbled upon this email, posted online by Andrew Mason. Many of us are aware of this charming goodbye email written by the founder of Groupon. In his letter, he shares an important wisdom. His regret in his own words – My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. To me, his statement captured the importance of both intuition and data. As I think of it, every data driven scientific decision that we experience is someone’s intuition in the form of a mathematical model, algorithm etc. I think one should strive to decide by intuition. Technology solutions built around data and metrics can help serve 2 purposes here – (1) either to execute those decisions or (2) to help the decision maker stay clear of any doubt he/she might have during the process. I’ll sign off with another quote of Mahatma Gandhi – You must try to listen to the inner voice, but if you will not have the expression ‘inner voice’, you may use the expression ‘dictates of reason’, which you should obey.