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How to Blend Data and Intuition for Better Decision-Making Balancing data-driven insights with intuition is crucial for effective decision-making, allowing entrepreneurs to see beyond the numbers and make connections that foster innovative solutions.

By Duncan Wardle Edited by Chelsea Brown

Key Takeaways

  • While data is crucial, it only tells half the story. Trusting your intuition helps fill in the gaps, leading to more well-rounded and informed business decisions.
  • Innovation often comes from looking beyond traditional data sources. Engaging with diverse perspectives can reveal unique insights and drive better solutions.
  • Encourage intuitive thinking in the workplace by integrating it into discussions and decision-making processes. Listening and observing can uncover insights that data alone might miss.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We live in a corporate world driven by data. Why, then, do 85% of business leaders report feeling uneasy about the choices they've made recently based on cold, hard facts? It's because data only tells half the story, which is where intuition fits in.

Intuition fills in the gaps and picks up where data leaves off. Have you ever "felt" someone staring at the back of your head? How did you know the person was there? It wasn't data. It was intuition. You have about 120 billion neurons in the "first brain" within your skull and 100 million neurons in your "second brain" (aka, your gut). If you're only focused on one of those brains, you're apt to make poorly informed decisions.

For those just starting out on their entrepreneurial journeys, trusting your "gut" or intuition can feel daunting. You're often bombarded with a flood of information, conflicting advice and new experiences. In this whirlwind, leaning on your gut might feel like navigating without a map. However, developing this trust in your intuition is crucial. It's about honing an inner compass that guides you through decisions when clear-cut answers might not be apparent. Over time, as you gain more experience and learn from both successes and failures, what once felt like an overwhelming reliance on an unknown force will start to feel more like a trusted ally in your decision-making process.

I don't mean to suggest that data isn't important. It is. However, trusting your gut is just as important. Your gut can speak volumes. You just have to learn how to marry it with data to drive an informed conclusion. If you're new to allowing intuition into your decision-making process, follow these steps:

Related: 4 Reasons Intuition Is an Essential Leadership Skill

1. Gather insights from unusual, non-data places

When you have a problem to solve, don't just pore over spreadsheets and charts. Look for innovation elsewhere.

Once, I was part of a group asked to increase the penetration of the Hispanic marketplace at Disney. To find ideas in unusual places, our group spent a day with three different types of people: a "weird," a "deep" and a "normal" (for context, a "weird" is someone who has a tangential relationship to your challenge but is from a different industry. A "deep" is someone who works in your industry but doesn't work for you. A "normal" is someone within your industry and company sphere).

My "weird" was a Hispanic car dealer. He and I drove a car to a Hispanic family so they could test it out. The car dealer noted to me that there would be more than 20 people in the kitchen when we arrived. He was right. I considered this a clue, so I wrote it down. Another clue happened when the abuela casually mentioned: "When there's a fiesta, we fiesta; when there isn't one, we make one." Her words were met by laughter, and the laughter kept coming as more of the family loaded into the car.

Next up was my "deep," a theme park industry travel agent who catered to Hispanic families. I watched as she talked with a couple about a 50th wedding anniversary cruise. All they cared about was having five tables of 10 people together for dinner on the cruise ship. They didn't care about the ports or the cruise line. Another clue.

Finally, I met up with a "normal." This was a Hispanic woman celebrating her son's first birthday. Tons of friends and family members were there, but she lamented that the party wasn't complete because her brother was missing. Now, the clues came together: Hispanic families wanted a place where they could gather together in large numbers. Therefore, if we could create a series of packages to meet that need, we could better attract and serve the Hispanic market.

Our experience of reaching out in unusual places resulted in a bucketload of ideas. Those ideas couldn't have seen the light of day without being prompted by the intuition that our data wasn't telling us everything we wanted to know.

Related: Study the Data But Then Trust Your Gut

2. Embrace and encourage intuition in your work

It's one thing to believe in the power of intuition. It's another thing to embrace it wholeheartedly at work. So, how can you cultivate it in yourself and those around you? Start by integrating it into your discussions, especially during meetings or planning sessions. While it's important to respect and understand data, also open the door to conversations focused on the human element of whatever you're trying to figure out.

Listening is a critical aspect of these intuitive-based discussions. Ask open-ended questions to push people to provide more information that feeds into your intuition. And don't just listen to what they're saying; observe their body language and how they're interacting with the world around them. Something invaluable I learned early in my career at Disney was to speak last. Listen to everyone in the room so you can gain the insights needed to more intuitively contribute to the conversation. Avoid overthinking it; instead, let your intuitive voice speak to you and guide you.

Remember: Your competitors probably have a lot of the same data as you. However, they don't have your and your team's unique, intuition-derived insights. By trusting these insights, you can uncover emotional connections and consumer needs that aren't evident in the data alone, giving you a competitive edge. Invite couples into the conversation when you're seeking these intuitive nuggets. Often, couples will police each other's responses, ensuring authenticity as one partner corrects the other if they stray from the truth. This dynamic allows you to glean deeper information than you might from individuals alone.

Furthermore, take the opportunity to step out of your usual office or focus group settings and visit the living spaces of your consumers. Observing them in their natural surroundings can reveal additional intuitive insights, as you'll notice things in their environment that either confirm or challenge your preliminary thoughts. This approach not only enriches your understanding but also strengthens the human element in your research, providing a robust foundation for making more empathetic and consumer-focused decisions.

Related: How to Hone and Harness Intuition in Your Career and Business

For entrepreneurs, mastering the balance between data-driven insights and intuitive thinking is a powerful stepping stone toward effective decision-making. While data provides a solid foundation, embracing your intuition adds a critical dimension, allowing you to see beyond the numbers and make connections that might otherwise go unnoticed. I encourage you to trust your gut feelings, as they are invaluable in navigating complex situations where data alone may not provide all the answers. As you continue to grow your business, combining these skills will not only boost your confidence but also distinguish your approach, helping you craft innovative solutions and forge meaningful connections.

Duncan Wardle

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Innovation Keynote Speaker & Creativity Consultant at iD8 & innov8

Duncan Wardle, formerly vice president of innovation and creativity at The Walt Disney Company, launched his creative consulting company iD8 & innov8 to help companies embed a culture of innovation and creativity across their entire organization.

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