5 Signs Going With Your Gut is a Terrible Plan


Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Management pros

Thursday, January 23, 2020

While trusting your instincts can lead to success, often going with your gut isn’t the best idea available. Here’s why you should base your decisions on data.

Article 3 Minutes
5 Signs Going With Your Gut is a Terrible Plan

We often hear the term “go with your gut” talked about in the world of business. Many people say that trusting your instincts can be one of the best business tools available to you, and it’s often touted as the best way to run a company. However, do we put too much trust in our gut feelings over measurable data?

There are times when you won’t have the data available to help you make a decision, of course. But even in these situations, you shouldn’t jump immediately to trusting your gut. Maybe the information you need is easily accessible if you ask the right people, or maybe you need time to weigh up the pros and cons.

That’s not to say you should never trust your instincts; business icons like Steve Jobs have often relied on their gut more than on intellectualism. However, if going with your gut is your first response to any problem, you might need to rethink your approach. Here’s why you might want to rethink trusting your instincts:

1. It can lead to tribalism

We’re instinctively tribal. Our instincts seem to naturally lead us to forming groups and being resistant to outsiders. Unfortunately, this is bad for business. Going with your gut can easily lead to tribes forming within your business, and if this happens you’ll find people more likely to compete with each other than to cooperate; and it’s the latter you’ll need to run a successful company.

2. Picking a side can mean ignoring the facts

When we decide we’re part of a group, our instinct is to defend it. Unfortunately, sometimes our group is wrong, and the facts aren’t on our side. When this happens, it’s easy to listen to your gut over information that goes against your beliefs. Ignoring facts leads to poor decision-making, and that can easily cause problems within a business.

3. We don’t know when to go with our guts

What we think of as our instincts is often the result of years of practice. Experienced poker players, for example, have gone through years of trial and error to the point where they almost naturally know what is or isn’t a good starting hand. Unfortunately, most people haven’t had that kind of specific practice, so their ‘gut’ is just a feeling rather than something based on knowledge.

4. Our instincts are often wrong

Even when presented with useful data, human beings aren’t that good at making decisions; one study found that 60% of employees lack the skills required to do so. Trying to choose the right course of action based solely on your gut will lower this percentage dramatically; although the same study found that unquestioningly accepting data can also lead to poor decision-making.

5. We’re bad at accepting diversity

Going with your gut often means sticking to what you know. This can be an extremely bad idea in a business environment that’s becoming increasingly global and diverse. For example, research found that job interviews can be ineffective because interviewers base too much of the decision on their instincts, which not only leads to employees who are a poor fit but also tends to result in hiring people who match the interviewer in terms of race, gender and other demographics.

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