Instinct vs. Business Intelligence
September 6, 2016 by Bill Rosenthal

Instinct is the propensity of a creature to engage in a defined behavior when presented with a certain stimulus. Sea turtles, for example, are born on the beach, but once hatched, they make their way immediately to the ocean. They are newborns, so it’s not something they have learned; it’s just something they do. It is a procedure, engineered by nature over countless generations of turtles, that results in the maximum number of turtles surviving to adulthood.

Human beings have instincts, too, although we are often kind of hazy about what instinct really is. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard a manager say they made a decision on instinct, or that they knew instinctively which choice was the best. Many are perfectly willing to trust the fate of their business — and their career — to instinct, which they often characterize as “gut feeling.”

While instinct does an impressive job of ensuring the largest possible sea turtle population, the sea turtles doubtless don’t feel very well served by it: only about 1 in 1,000 hatchlings survives to adulthood. Predators that relish hatchling sea turtles include raccoons, alligators, seabirds, and sharks. So I have to ask. Given the prevalence of predators in your industry, is instinct a process to which you want to trust the fate of your business?

And yet, instinct seems to be one of the biggest obstacles to the adoption of business intelligence (BI) systems. Some managers would rather trust to their guts than their information systems.

If you’re making critical strategic business decisions on instinct, I would like to suggest that whatever success you’ve had is less due to the quality of your instinct than to accident. You just haven’t encountered many competitors along the way. You’re that 1 turtle in a thousand that survived. But when you finally do encounter one of your industry’s predators, they will doubtless be using a business intelligence platform, and you will become lunch. So get yourself a business intelligence platform, and use it. It will give you deeper insights faster than your gut ever can, and it will make you more agile. It will give you new ways of thinking about and organizing data, and it will help you focus on what’s most important in achieving your goals. 

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I don’t mean to be cavalier about sea turtles. They are beautiful creatures, and they need our help. Of the 7 surviving species of sea turtles, 3 are considered endangered, and 3 are considered vulnerable (for the seventh, there isn’t enough data to say whether or not they are viable). Loss of habitat, pollution, disease, human predation, debris (including fishing nets), and climate change are taking a grave toll. It seems no amount of instinct can protect them in a world that has become so hostile to them.