Don’t trust your gut

The more complex the situation, the less you should trust your intuition, which is your brain’s attempt to make decisions based on patterns it recognizes from a lifetime of experiences. Unfortunately, our brains can’t process the level of complexity around us, and our intuition can be dangerous when detached from data and analysis.

In data we trust

Use computers and data to support decision-making and evaluate scenarios. Collect and analyze as much relevant data as possible. Beware of small sample sizes and extreme results as the data may not be representative of the situation.

It’s easy to misinterpret data and see patterns that don’t exist. In statistics this is called “regression to the mean,” a common statistical phenomenon that can mislead us. The nature of the problem will direct you to the appropriate type of data and the best collection method. Fortunately, a computer can evaluate a massive data set in seconds.

Bias, optimism, pessimism, or bad information can skew our interpretations of events or the world. Our veil of ignorance prevents us from seeing reality accurately, but most of us are convinced we are right and other people are wrong. Our preconceptions can cause us to trust bad intuitions, overlook or dismiss crucial information, and make bad decisions.

I’ve noticed that the top experts in a field often admit there is a lot they don’t know or understand. That’s because the more you know about something, the more likely you see how much you don’t know. We don’t even understand consciousness or how our own brains work, and we have barely begun exploring the oceans or outer space. To say we have blind spots is a massive understatement.

But don’t ignore your instincts either

Intuition does have a role in decision-making, although you do not want to trust it blindly. Don’t ignore your instincts but do assume they are wrong and try to disprove them. Pay attention to your intuition because your brain is sending you a useful signal that something is important here, which will open a path for further questioning and discovery.

How to follow

  • Use data to inform decision-making.
  • Pay attention to your instincts and try to disprove them

Ignore this rule when facing ethical decisions on how to behave properly. Your gut usually knows right from wrong in those cases.

Use data and analysis to help you make better decisions. Don’t trust your gut.


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