I often wonder how many brilliant ideas have been stifled due to a lack of data. When an idea is inherently true and correct, data serves merely as an adjunct, and its absence should not diminish the idea’s validity. Ideas and opinions should never be evaluated solely based on supporting data. Some of the most groundbreaking concepts in science and business have sprung from a mere inkling, devoid of extensive research:
- Einstein ‘s Theory of Relativity started with a hunch when he was only sixteen years old: he wondered what would happen if he chased a beam of light at the speed of light and could catch up to it?
- 3M’s Post-It Note, an iconic invention, emerged from Spencer Silver’s development of a seemingly useless weak adhesive, until his colleague Art Fry had a hunch that it could serve as a place marker that wouldn’t damage the pages of a book.
- Airbnb materialized when Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, grappling with rent difficulties, followed their instincts and envisioned people paying to stay in their living room.
Data is valuable to confirm a theory or opinion about which we are not sure, or to propose an idea that is counter to our experience or intuitive assumptions. However, unwavering reliance on data at the expense of common sense and intuition can be perilous, leaving us susceptible to unreliable or fabricated data. In the business world, data often takes precedence over intuition as a safeguard against culpability. Making decisions based on data, no matter how flawed, shields us from blame. On the other hand, decisions rooted in personal wisdom, intuition, and experience leave leaders vulnerable to criticism if things go awry. This dynamic sometimes compels leaders to opt for data-backed decisions they recognize as suboptimal.
Must every idea require data to be considered credible?
The Idolization of Data
A striking example of the extreme veneration of data, is an article by Nick Hobson, a behavioral scientist, published in Inc., claiming that rigorous, large-scale studies have raised questions about the validity and effectiveness of Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset theory. Hobson criticizes Microsoft for “doubling down on the growth mindset concept even as doubts about its effectiveness are mounting.” Dweck’s thesis is simply that “individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset and tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).” Even without Dweck’s exhaustive quantitative data, does this notion lose credibility? Would you not welcome managers who encourage their teams to develop their talents through hard work and strategic thinking? Must every idea require data to be considered credible?
Intuition Improves Critical Thinking and Fosters Innovation
Losing trust in our intuitive wisdom and abdicating intuition in favor of data, impairs our capacity for critical thinking. It is when we sense that something is not right, or that there is another alternative, that we probe and question using our power of critical thinking to open possibilities and explore alternative avenues. Without intuition, innovation languishes. Solutions tend to converge because everyone relies on the same dataset. When developing the iPad, Steve Jobs abstained from customer research, believing it would yield commonplace data. He had an innate understanding of what customers needed, even if they were not yet aware of it. Without Jobs’ intuition, we might not have the iPad today. It is flashes of intuitive insight that lead to genuinely groundbreaking ideas and innovative solutions.
Explore uncharted ideas and discover solutions that others may never find.
Enhancing Team Intuition
As a leader, you can foster intuition within your team and cultivate trust in their intuitive judgments by:
- Creating an environment where team members feel safe expressing their intuitive insights.
- Encouraging team members to consider their personal judgment, aside from data, when presenting their ideas.
- Nurturing strong intuitive hunches rather than dismissing them, suggesting that team members seek data to support their intuitions.
- Prompting team members to reflect on their intuitive reactions when confronted with the opinions and ideas of others.
- Encouraging reflection on challenges away from the usual workplace, often in a natural or creative setting.
Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Ignite the gift of intuition and, hand in hand with its rational counterpart, explore uncharted ideas and discover solutions that others may never find.