Traditional business leaders will tell you, it takes intuition and instinct to successfully navigate your market and grow your business. They’ll tell you nothing is more valuable than experience, and decisions should be based on that experience. They’ll even say, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, so you go with your gut.
All great men are gifted with intuition. They know, without reasoning or analysis, what they need to know.
– Alexis Carrel, French Surgeon and Biologist, 1912 Nobel Prize Recipient
Let’s start with some operating definitions for this conversation…
Fact – An indisputable piece of evidence – something that has already taken place and can be validated; when used appropriately, can be the foundation for decision making and problem-solving.
Feeling – a belief, often vague or undefinable – synonymous with inkling, hunch, notion, suspicion and often based on years of experience and an underlying understanding of people and situations; when used appropriately, can be instrumental in creating the problem statement and hypothesis.
Time and time again, I am faced with friends and clients who begin solutions with “I think we should…” or “I feel like this is happening because…” The problem with feelings is that they’re fleeting. They can change with the wind and are often heavily biased. They’re also commonly based on perceptions of the past and provide little indication of future performance. These “I think…” statements are incredibly important when developing a problem statement, but can be landmines when used as baselines for solutions. With ever-growing access to mountains of information, it is more important than ever to understand when to use data and when to use your intuition.
When you want the Facts…
When West Monroe looks at a client’s internal processes, we need to be talking in facts. We need to understand how information and materials flow through the business, and we can misplace our focus and efforts if we start making assumptions. Additionally, by removing ‘feelings’ from the conversation, we are able to make objective decisions that have expected outcomes.
Throughput, lead times, cycle times, yield, defect ratios, regression analysis, control charts… these are facts. Proper use enables business leaders to make proper decisions. Using a ‘heaping tablespoon’ or ‘season to taste’ approach may be appropriate when baking cookies, but a much more discrete recipe should be used when considering millions of dollars in time, material, and inventory.
The key to getting the most from facts is understanding that they are used to (dis)prove an existing hypothesis, and then again to generate solutions.
For example, if a certain call type in a call center, say claims submissions, results in 2 additional call backs 70% of the time, and each call back lasts 12 minutes and costs the company $9, measures can be taken toward single-call resolution or steps toward providing the customer self-service outlets. By appropriately using facts, the hypothesis that ‘new account setup’ calls (double the volume) were the main cost driver, could be disproven and avoided.
When you want Feelings…
Alternatively, West Monroe will also help clients understand the way they interact with their customers. Ideas related to improving customer service, marketing, or product design are often first born out of feelings and intuition. When walking our clients through tools like customer journey maps, they are asked to provide assumptive emotions on behalf of the customer. Many times, it’s the emotional mapping that elicits the most improvement ideas. These feelings form the basis of the hypotheses that can then be validated through empirical data from Voice of the Customer exercises, Net Promoter Scoring, and Effort Index scoring. Take the below example, for instance.
“I think our attrition rate is increasing because of our deficiencies in the mobile payment process.” This problem statement is formed on intuition and comes from a general understanding of how technology is transforming the financial services industry. It also comes from deep understanding of the business strategy of providing differentiated service to aging, well-established retirees who are more accustomed to pay by phone and check. The leader recognizes that the mobile-savvy youth are no longer the sole audience of app-based interactions and they are neglecting the growing group of mobile users between 25 and 65. The leader’s next steps would be to perform competitive analysis, detailed user sampling, and gather transaction data to validate the hypothesis through facts to avoid solving for a symptom instead of the root cause.
Huge benefits can be gained by properly separating fact from feeling. However, a hypothesis-solution rooted on only one side can quickly cause more harm than good. In the end, symptoms and intuition can provide guidance and direction, but there is equal risk in creating too much separation between the two. Ultimately, both facts and feelings are required for successful problem resolution.
Just remember, let your gut ask the questions, and your data provide the answers.