Gut Check OK In Age Of Analytics, Gartner Says - InformationWeek

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David Wagner
David Wagner
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Gut Check OK In Age Of Analytics, Gartner Says

Gut decisions are out of fashion in the world of analytics and big data, but one Gartner analyst says "Not so fast."

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At the Gartner Symposium this week, vice president and distinguished analyst Carol Rozwell surprised a lot of very rational people by saying that you really should stop trying to make so many data-driven decisions.

"Our premise," Rozwell said, "is that we have to let go of this myth that, with a lot of data and using our rational minds, that we're going to make the best decisions possible."

Naturally that raised a few hackles, but before you get out the tar and feathers and march down to the Gartner Symposium looking for Rozwell, realize her ultimate premise is that, whether we like it or not, our decisions are always part intuition. She gave us a framework for how best to use both intuition and data to make the best decisions.

First, let's dispense with the notion that you can make an entirely rational decision.

Rozwell gave multiple examples, and they were very compelling, but let's stick with a couple: The first is that, according to Rozwell, research shows that people who have damaged the part of their brains that govern emotions can no longer make any decision at all, not even as simple as what to have for lunch.

The second is an experiment that was done on college students to show that when we have to give a logical reason for a decision, we often make bad decisions that we regret.

Two groups of college students were shown two posters. One was a very nice poster with a fine art painting on it. The other was a pop culture poster with a cat or similar object and a pithy phrase. One group's members were told they could simply pick a poster and take it with them to hang in their dorms. The other group's members were told they could pick a poster and take it with them, but they had to explain the reason for their choice.

The strange part is that, according to Rozwell, the overwhelming majority of those who did not have to explain their decision picked the fine art poster. Most of those who had to explain why they were choosing took the cat posters.

[This framework tries to make it clear that big data can't help every decision. Read Big Data Analytics Power Revolution in Decision Making.]

Lest you think this had to do with some sort of peer pressure about what people thought they should take, the researchers went back to the subjects later. Nearly all of those who didn't have to explain their decision were happy. Those who had to explain it were unhappy. Rozwell felt that when asked to think rationally, people eliminated half their brain -- the intuition and emotional side -- when making the decision. They shut off the most important faculties in making that particular decision.

A diagram  similar to the one Rozwell displayed.

(Image: Snowden via Wikimedia Commons)

A diagram similar to the one Rozwell displayed.

(Image: Snowden via Wikimedia Commons)

With that in mind, Rozwell gave a framework, called the Cynefin Framework, for four different possible types of decisions: simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic. We should use different parts of our brains for each type of decision.

Simple decisions are those where the relationship between cause and effect is obvious. In those situations you should use data and rational thought to make the

Page 2: When can you trust your instincts?

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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David Wagner
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
10/12/2015 | 12:51:30 PM
Re: Decisions
@jastroff- Well, I think what she's railing against is not the fact that we don't KNOW it, but we don't work that way. We have a tendency these days to think you can out data a problem. Oh, we didn't get that right? Oh, we would have if only we had 100 TB more data on the subject.

We need ot understand when to muscle a problem with data and when data only works in retrospect. I think companies are not struggling with using their gut instincts and their data, but when to use each and in what amounts.
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