Is your decision making style more analytical or intuitive? Is one better than the other? If you could choose, which would you prefer?

Several years ago, I was standing in the auditorium at the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in Kolkata, my college alma mater. I was their guest lecturer and had been invited to talk about my post-graduation journey. I had spent my formative years at ISI from 1976 to 1981. Those were some of the most memorable years of my life, where deep friendships were formed, and my analytical skills were shaped and sharpened. While many ISI graduates go on to become scientists, professors, and accomplished professionals, very few go down the path of entrepreneurship.

The conversation was focused on my experience of coming to the U.S. and building a successful business. One of the questions from the audience was: In what ways has ISI training helped or hampered your journey as an entrepreneur? As I reflected on that question, I started thinking about my decision making style. I am an analytical person by nature, whose formal training was in Mathematics and Statistics. I lean on these analytical skills on a constant basis. There is no doubt that ISI taught me to rapidly analyze available information to form a hypothesis, but what happens when facts or datasets are missing or incomplete?

All of us are constantly presented with situations where we need to make decisions, but we don’t have a complete set of facts. Often, we choose to defer any decisions until additional facts can be gathered. But is that always the right approach? We must first ask ourselves; how much information is enough? Can we extrapolate some of the missing information? Will making a faster decision give me an advantage – even if I could have waited a bit longer?

While acknowledging that some decisions require more time and information than others, it is my belief that the speed of decision making plays an important role in the growth and success of a business. By combining our analytical skills with our intuition, we can significantly speed up the decision making process. We are all blessed with one of the world’s fastest computers: our brains. Some of our intuition comes from data that our brains have processed at phenomenal speeds.

We may not fully comprehend the data or the analysis behind our intuition, but it can be a serious mistake to ignore these signals. I used to be an avid player of a game of cards called Contract Bridge. A lot of my success at the Bridge table was driven by combining my analytical skills with my “table feel” – the ability to place cards by reading the behavior of the other players. As I started my entrepreneurial journey, I found many more opportunities to experiment with combining analytical and intuitive skills. I learned that my intuition not only enabled me to make faster decisions, but that these decisions were just as effective.

Most business executives have developed the discipline of making business decisions analytically, typically supported by a trove of underlying data. However, what most people fail to realize is that we make some of our biggest life decisions intuitively. The way we choose our friends, our spouse, people we choose to trust, the company we work for, and the people that we hire at work, often comes down to intuition. By learning to combine analytics and intuition, we become even more powerful!

Analytical Vs. Intuitive

With special thanks to Srinivas Bhogle for his support and contribution to this project.