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Big Data… or Go With Your Gut Like Google?

February 24, 2015

 I consider myself to be a pretty analytical guy. When I make decisions, I like to look at my options, gather as much information as I can, and then make my choice logically and rationally. If I can get my hands on a nice juicy, data-rich Excel file, I love to slice, dice and crunch it and see what it tells me.

 

And sometimes, I like to do the complete opposite of analytical thought. Every once and a while, I like to go with my gut and choose the option that just feels right. Occasionally I do this because I don’t have any data. But I’ve also done this when the empirical information was available. I like to justify these intuitive decisions with the old Henry Ford quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” In other words, sometimes data tells you what the customer wants—but not necessarily what the customer needs.

 

But I’m not Henry Ford. Maybe justifying myself using his quote is a bit pretentious. Maybe I think I’m being smart, but maybe I should really get back to that Excel sheet. Indeed, how do you establish that you’re qualified to go with your gut in a particular case? How can you decide when to use data, and when to use your gut?

 

(Spoiler alert: I don’t have the answer).

 

When I start thinking about this dilemma, I think of Google. People often forget how different—and counterintuitive—the Google search engine was way back when it started.  That whole simple screen with a single field that you just typed into? Now it seems obvious, but back then, the dark days of DOS were very fresh in people’s minds, and DOS was all about typing into fields. Everyone thought people wanted to get away from that. We all thought you had to put radial buttons and check boxes everywhere to minimize typing.

 

Google bet on typing. And it worked. Brilliantly.

 

Did Google crunch data to make that decision? Who knows. Maybe Larry and Sergey just thought it made sense.

 

It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? That a company known for number crunching and complex algorithms could (possibly) have been founded on a call straight from the gut?

 

In a way, the ultimate call from the gut might be the first choice at the base of your decision tree. Not, “I’ll make a car, not a faster horse,” but, “Do I crunch the numbers, or do I just go with my gut?”

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