Big data not trusted by executives if it conflicts with their beliefs and instincts

Big dataThere were a number of themes that ran through the Workplace Strategy Summit that took place in Reading this week. One of the most talked about was Big Data and its influence on decision making. The consensus appeared to be that data should not be the sole determinant of decision making, even though it can give people the reassurance they are doing the right thing, and even a scapegoat when things don’t go as the data might suggest. So in some ways it’s reassuring to hear that executives around the world are more than happy to ignore data when it goes against their instincts and beliefs. A study from the Economist Intelligence Unit which examined the approach business leaders take to decision making, found a clear pattern in the way executives use and perceive data and analytics, especially the fact that they do not trust it if it counters their own insights and the majority will reanalyse information that conflicts with them.

While well over half (59 percent) describe their approach as data driven and based on hard facts, around seven in ten (68 percent) say they trust their own intuition when choosing a course of action and would happily choose a course of action based on nothing more than gut instinct, with no big data to support it. The report suggests that data is often used to confirm whether an executives. Beliefs, insights and gut feelings are correct. If the data available to inform a decision contradicts these, 57 per cent would re-analyse the existing data, and 30 per cent would collect more or new data. Only ten per cent would take the course of action suggested by the originally available information.

However, such apparently conflicting attitudes can be explained, according to report’s author Pete Swabey. “It’s not an analysis versus intuition debate. There is a role of intuition in the process of analysis, which you might think of as sense-checking or comparing with your experience, that can help you make sense of the data,” he said.

The report also looks at accountability for decision making with a fifth (19 percent) claiming that nobody is ever held accountable for decisions in their organisations and two thirds claiming that nobody except senior executives knows who makes specific decisions anyway.