Decision-making: Data and intuition

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about decision-making.

It harks back to a lot of stuff I’m been churning over in my head about choice analysis. We have choices over what we think and what we do, which when we think about it, is almost everything.

When I realised this, and realised that the things I chose to think about and the things I chose to do encompassed so much, all the other things — all the other things that were outside my control — suddenly became as good as irrelevant.

Decision-making is slightly different than choice.

Or, to put it another way, decision-making is a subset of the choices I make.

Decisions feel bigger, bulkier, grander, more important. A decision is thinking about something, pondering on two or more distinct options, and choosing one of them. (A key part of decision-making, of course, is the thing you don’t choose as much as the thing you do.)

But I realised that in virtually all my major decisions, intuition is a key factor.

That is, for almost all key decisions in my life — changing jobs, quitting jobs, exploring new business opportunities, starting a podcast, writing this blog or my newsletters — the key factor has been intuition.

On occasion I have gone against my intuition. Heard it encouraging me in a particular direction with its quiet inner insistence, but decided not to heed it.

On those occasions I’ve based my decision on numbers. A project that might pay nicely. A job offer with x bonus or y days off.

The decisions based on data and against intuition have invariably been the ones that went off-course.

And yet numbers are important to me. In everything I do, I try to keep score.

I collect my 5k times, and celebrate quietly when I shave a few seconds off my personal best. I have a spreadsheet for my weight, blood pressure and body fat percentage. For a while I scanned food labels into MyFitnessPal to check my macronutrients. For my day-job I can spend hours sifting through Google Analytics and social media insights for nuggets of information that demonstrate the effectiveness — or otherwise — of what we’ve been doing.

I find keeping score not only essential, but rewarding too.

Even for my daughter’s short-sided soccer matches, when it’s non-competitive and nobody is supposed to keep score, I keep score. (I admit: everyone’s quietly keeping score. The coaches, the other parents, and most importantly my daughter and her teammates…)

And yet I’m not sure how much keeping score informs when it comes to the major decisions.

Perhaps at a subconscious level the numbers are influencing the intuition, but for me at least, intuition feels far removed from metrics.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Am I weird to place such importance in numbers and data and metrics, and then largely set them aside when it comes to making decisions on what to do next?

There’s a disclaimer that has been a standard add-on to ads for financial institutions in Ireland. “Past performance is not an indicator of future performance.”