Making Decisions: Gut vs Data

Another question that recently came my way:

These days there is so much fuss about making data based decisions. When should gut feelings come into play in decision making?

In making business decisions, should you favor your gut instinct over your data?

These two things – gut and data – are not in competition.

What is your “gut”

Your “gut”, your instinct: this is all your experience talking to you. Your past experience is part of your data. It may not be experience in this specific situation, but it is experience from you work, industry, trade, product or clients. All that you have been through before informs what we are thinking today.

When you have a “gut feeling”, acknowledge where it comes from and then treat as part of your data. It is not in conflict with your data: it is part of it.

What is your data

Your data*, on the other hand, is something that comes from outside you, it is external to you. The way you want to use data is to reveal patterns and trends in behavior and situations.

Yes, data has a role to play in making decisions. You have to know which data is relevant and where it comes from, so you can evaluate associated assumptions. Let it work with your gut instinct and see how these two can come together.

Sometimes it may seem that these two are contradicting each other. When this happens go deeper to discover why the disagreement. Where is the information coming from, what is its basis, what can defend the position taken, and you will get to a resolution.

How to use Data & Gut together

The point is that all your decisions must be informed decisions, so you want to use everything at your disposal.

Your data is an asset. Your experience is also an asset. A bit of creativity will help too. Evaluate and use all three of these elements when making decisions. That is an equation for good decision making. Bring in new assumptions to challenge your results, and make sure your decisions can stand up against contradictions and disagreeing points of view.

Making Informed Decisions

Your gut alone can lead you astray. Our reactions to the things that happen can distort our memories. So gut alone is not an informed decision.

Data exists but it can not tell you anything. It will inform what you are doing but on its own, data can not make a decision for you.

Your gut will inform how you use the data.

To Do List

  1. Know what to track to make good decisions – not every bit of information is relevant, focus on the data that impacts outcomes
  2. Use your CRM or a similar tool to automatically collect this data
  3. Review the data regularly with the wisdom of experience, let the data help you place your “instinct” in context and make sure both have a part in your conclusions


*I am using the word data to stand in for “data-set”, hence the singular verb tense