Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gut Based Decisions - A Cause of Heart Burn?

"Tell Your Gut to Please Shut Up," Please? In this blog post by Michael Schrage, the misnomer that intuition or gut-level decision making is statistically effective and sound is challenged. In fact, it is often touted that one's experience is enough to provide the foundation of sound decisions:
Leaders and managers are encouraged and exhorted to rely more on their intuition and judgment. Everyone knows that "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment." Ha ha ha. But where does bad judgment come from? My answer — and the replicable answer from Nobel Prize winning research: Trusting gut instincts and feelings.

He continues on:
The entire field of behavioral economics has been built on the intensifying recognition that people, particularly smart ones, are suckers for cognitive illusions and heuristic biases that pretty much guarantee that "gut-trusting" will, on average, yield heart burn.

What is the answer to this dilemma of intuition or gut-level based direction? Data. Making decisions based on actual information and not what you "sense" or "feel. "
While this is not new, Michael Schrage turns this from the enterprise to the individual:

What gives this issue great urgency and good timeliness is the nascent phenomenon discussed in Gary Wolf's excellent New York Times Magazine piece on data-driven introspection. He describes his cast of anal-retentive compulsively computational cast of characters as uber-geeks. To me, they're the uber-introspects: a new cultural class that values the ability to relentlessly act upon obsessive self-knowledge....Instrumenting ourselves, our thoughts, our actions, and — yes — our networks of colleagues and acquaintances, simultaneously transforms both self-awareness and situational awareness.

This has been personally demonstrated to me as I have recently lost 30 pounds in the last 4 months. In short, I simply monitored both my daily caloric intake and the burning of those calories by measured exercise with the help of the SparkPeople website. This tool made it easy to search the foods that I would eat that day and plan my meals while tracking the daily exercise. Moreover, what was most empowering was that when I knew the actual calories I had already consumed, in the evening, it made it easier for me to resist the desire to eat more. By knowing where I actually was with calorie intake and not having to guess in the midst of being hungry, I was able to say "NO" to more food.
Finally Schrage challenges the reader with a self-examining experiment:

So here's a simple, cheap experiment: the next few times you make a snap decision or judgment where your gut is your best friend, take 20 seconds to send yourself an email or text briefly describing what you did and why. Quit after doing it maybe 20 times. Then look at those messages from the vantage of a week later. I promise you'll be surprised. (I did a version of that exercise when I was having a nightmare time with a client. The resulting review left me biting my tongue and forbidding myself from sending substantive project emails without sleeping on them first.)

More on coming soon on the data-driven life.

No comments: