Over the years I’ve developed a survey technique that looks absolutely crazy and unworkable. Every time I present it to people their immediate gut instinct reaction is: “This won’t work! It’s horrible!!”
The survey involves giving people a list of up to 100 tasks and asking them to quickly choose their top five. The list is randomized. It looks impossible to do. But it works. It has worked more than 400 times. 400,000 people have voted. It has worked in 24 languages.
Now, when I initially present these facts — this data — most people laugh, shrug and then accept that while their gut is telling them that it doesn’t work, the facts are indisputable. Some do resist no matter what evidence I show them. Strangely, those who tend to resist most are research and survey professionals, some of whom vehemently oppose the idea that this sort of survey could work. They refuse to believe the evidence. It goes against the theory of survey design that they have learned.
This is not a good time for people like that. They belong to a simpler world. In a simple world that doesn’t change very much, it’s good to trust your gut and your common sense. Humans evolved over millions of years in a pretty simple world. Our gut instinct is thus something shaped and honed over millions of years.
In complex worlds, like the one we live in, things change very quickly, and things get very complicated very fast. What’s more, things make less and less common sense. Complexity and counter-intuition are twins. Advanced science and mathematics are crazy worlds of confounding ideas.
To succeed in our complex world we will increasingly be required to develop insight through data and evidence rather than through gut instinct. We must shift towards “making the distinction between ‘thinking’ and ‘knowing’ and training people to speak up and challenge what we think of as conventional wisdom,” Florian Zettelmeyer, professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, has stated.
“The disparity between data forerunners and laggards will completely change the way businesses think and execute, and will open a wide performance chasm between the two,” Russell Glass, head of business-to-business products at LinkedIn is quoted as saying in the report, “The Virtuous Circle of Data: Engaging Employees in Data and Transforming Your Business.”
In preparing the report, The Economist Intelligence Unit carried out a global survey in 2014. “The survey reveals a strong relationship between data-centricity and superior performance,” the report states. Data driven cultures are more creative, are more collaborative, manage risk better, get higher quality products faster to market, and have higher employee satisfaction. Data-driven companies are the future.” Data, of course, is not enough. We still need insightful managers who can truly understand what the data is saying.
So, what’s stopping your organization becoming more data-driven? Yes, internal technology for sharing data is horrible in most organizations, but the biggest issue is always the Culture of the Gut. The culture of secrecy, of ego, of hierarchy. Data-driven and the Culture of the Gut cannot coexist.