Data vs Intuition : Numbers won’t tell you everything and neither will instinct

I have read a lot of interesting threads on Twitter about the value of data and intuition. A question often comes up: “What matters most? Data, facts OR intuition, feelings?” To understand the debate of Data vs Intuition, we need to understand what they represent.

Let’s (re)define intuition:

What we call intuition is what I would call “expertise + experience”. Intuition is a summary of everything we have seen; all the information we have available to us. Intuition is based (Data = information). How we compute data at a physiological level results in intuition. This is a sub-conscious gathering of data. Intuition is such an important part in data that the term "mathematical intuition" was created to encompass it. The gut is a powerful pre-cursor to the right brain. Data without the right expertise can tell the wrong story because the person reading the data will do so improperly. It mostly depends on the situation. Sometimes the situation demands databased decisions, and sometimes you simply will have to trust your gut.

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am.” Albert Einstein

 ...Let’s rethink the role of data

Data is in the left-brain, but there is a danger in assuming all data leads to some kind of a deterministic outcome model. Anyone working with data knows models are an approximation. We need to frame it first. Data can be greatly misinterpreted if the wrong questions were asked or if it wasn't clear enough. Data-based decisions are still subjective; it’s only one interpretation of the facts. Look at different numbers and you may find a different story. A single point of view is not enough. To get valuable insights, data needs to be cleaned, structured and interpreted with the right question of ‘why?’ Everything surrounding us is data—it really depends on us humans how much value can we extract from it.

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.” Stephen Hawkins

Data Informed > Data Driven
To embrace evidence-based practices fueled by instinct we need to be self-critical, humble and curious. Look for those places where data confirms intuition and where intuition fuels data exploration—those are the sweet spots. Data without meaning is useless and intuitions without facts are pointless. Data won’t tell you everything. Intuition won’t tell you everything either. But Data + Intuition = FIRE.
Seddik Cherif
Research Manager at Twitter France


Data Storyteller passionate about digital marketing and cultural trends