Uneasy bedfellows: analysis and intuition?

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Yesterday at The Premier Business Leadership Series, I had the tremendous pleasure of attending the panel debate Balancing Intuition and Analytics in Decision Making. The panelists were: Malcolm Gladwell - Best-selling author of Outliers: The Story of Success, Blink and The Tipping Point; Tom Davenport - Best-selling author of Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning and President's Distinguished Professor at Babson College; and Thornton May - Futurist, Executive Director and Dean of the IT Leadership Academy .

The panel continued a discussion that Malcolm had introduced in his keynote address earlier about Judgment - the ability to make decisions in seconds based on the acquired experience of years of practical application (or the 10,000 hour rule - the amount of time it takes to be truly great at something). As an aside, I really wonder about this - why are there so many young successful people if you need a minimum of 10 years of experience; are they drawing on something more than just experience or raw talent?

At first glance, you would expect the panel to split pretty firmly into two camps: The "experience is king" camp led by Malcolm and the "you can't get enough data" camp led by Tom and Thornton. But what struck me as interesting was actually how close the two camps were: Malcolm admitted that experience needs feedback to be valuable (feedback from objective business analytics for example) and Tom and Thornton acknowledged that Analytics needs interpretation and judgment to put information into context and to formulate an appropriate response. As I paraphrased in Thornton's lunch, business analytics is the most powerful form of business decision-support not decision-making. In my opinion, when you get the mix of education, experience and (reliable) information right, you release executive creativity, not constrain it.

What they all agreed upon was that there has to be a greater understanding of the power and limitations of analytics in the boardroom - there are too many executives who are woefully underestimating or overestimating what can be done with these powerful tools. As the panel agreed, models don't kill businesses; fools with models kill businesses. On the other hand, what can't experts with models achieve?

Anyway, the panel was incredibly stimulating, all three panelists were insightful, funny, engaging story-tellers who could really get their points across and set us up for the afternoon Executive Workshops (I was in Thornton's). Although I must admit to some bias (Malcolm would pick me up on that anyway). I have to admit that, all things considered, this has been the best PBLS so far. If you were one of the unfortunate people who missed the conference (shame on you), I strongly recommend you visit the main site - the keynote sessions and panels were filmed and will be available as streaming video.It's not the same, but you would do yourself a disservice by not taking advantage of it.

Here's looking forward to the next event in the series in mid-2010 in Europe. I hope to see you there.

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About Author

Peter Dorrington

Director, Marketing Strategy (EMEA)

I am the Director of Marketing Strategy for the EMEA region at SAS Institute and have more than 25 years experience in IT and computing systems. My current role is focused on supporting SAS’ regional marketing operations in developing marketing strategies and programs aligned around the needs of SAS’ markets and customers.

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