In the great Australian movie “The Castle” there’s a scene where the lawyer for the Kerrigan family is asked what section of the constitution has been breached. He replies nervously that there is no one section – rather, he says, “it’s just the vibe of the thing”. I’m an unashamed fan of making decisions on gut feel or the vibe of it. It’s quick, it feels good and I think it produces a good result most of the time.
Given my personal fondness for this method of decision making I was aghast at what I heard at a recent presentation. Apparently gut feel decision making no longer cuts it now that we are in the era of big data. Instead, everything needs to be backed up with hard data and it all needs to be evidence-based.
I can understand that when big decisions are being made large amounts of evidence and hard data are very important. For example, it’s useful if you’re constructing a tunnel between England and France, deciding what treatment protocols to give to cancer patients, and figuring out how to invest multibillion dollar superannuation funds. In each of these cases the risks of making a wrong decision in these instances are just too great to leave anything to chance.
However, I’m increasingly seeing examples of people who are afraid to make even the smallest of decisions at work without loads of data and lots of justification. These people are seldom wrong. The problem is that their search for evidence and the synthesis of data takes a lot of time and slows decision to a snail’s pace.
When we call on our instincts to make decisions in areas of expertise we are rapidly accessing many years worth of experience. Occasionally, due to our imperfect brains and judgement biases, we’ll get something wrong but I’d prefer to make 30 decisions per week and get 1 wrong than make just 3 decisions and get each one correct.
Big data and evidence-based decision making certainly have their place, but if we rely on this for every decision our organisations will become cumbersome and slow. For that matter, so will we.
Let’s keep calling on gut feel to make the smaller decisions, and save the big data for the truly big decisions.