Data and Intuition, Logic and Instinct: A Unified Approach to Problem Solving
I have overheard data analysts and other evidence-based professionals decrying “gut feeling” or “intuition” as though they have no place whatsoever in content creation or web design and “inspiration” and “emotion” as something to be ignored, resisted, and even mocked at all times. I also overhear pure creatives decrying the destructive and soul-destroying onslaught of data as something that will stifle and smother human creativity to death.
As with most things, I believe that the answer is either between the two extremes or a mixture of elements of each extreme. Let me explain how I think that data and creativity, the left and right brains, the logic and the intuition can coexist, collaborate, and conquer in harmony.
Intuition is the product of a subconscious mind which is the sum total of all of your memories, experiences, and automated skills and techniques developed to date. It is what provides you a flash of insight when you first encounter a problem. It is what allows you to deal with tasks that you’ve done thousands of times before without a second thought. It is the crystallization of all you know and all you have learned to do. It is the unforeseen link between seemingly disparate steps of logic or pieces of data. It is the daydream, the voice in the darkness, the muse. It is the vague feeling that something is out of place, but you don’t know what it is.
Conscious, logical thought is the voice in your head that you will into being to think through a plan. It is the memory palace painstakingly constructed brick by brick to warehouse and access information. It is the dispassionate, analytical, evidence-demanding mechanism that examines input and produces output, exacting in its precision. It is the concerted, conscientious, and careful practice of a skill that turns it into an intuitive process. It is the proof for the persuading and the sight that leads to believing. It is the scalpel that separates the whole into manageable chunks of undiscovered truth for closer inspection.
Both subconscious, intuitive thought and conscious, logical thought are necessary. We do a disservice to the mind when we prioritize one above the other.
Intuition without data cannot inspire true confidence. It cannot be objectively proven to be true or false, for the basis for the conclusion is hidden and stuck within a single, subjective mind.
Data without intuition is mere trivia, insignificant without meaning and context to determine where it fits and what it is for. We can all see the data objectively, but we cannot understand what it means.
In problem solving, something we data analysts do a whole lot of, intuition is essential in finding where the problem is and in creatively generating a pool of potential solutions. Intuitive thought also helps you recognize the significance and context of the problem, allowing you to understand what kinds of solutions are possible and available.
Logical thinking is equally as important in solving problems, as it will help you narrow down the potential problem by close examination of the effects of the problem. That, in turn, will let you determine which items in the solution pool would be the most applicable to the problem at hand.
If we were to apply only one approach or the other, we would only be using half of our potential problem-solving firepower! That would represent a massive waste of potential.
Intuition and logic, context and data, subjective and objective thought; these are the two sides of human thought that make us able to perform nearly miraculous feats of ingenuity and sleuthing. They are the yin and yang of our genius; they are greater together than the sum of their parts. Let’s use them both wherever their respective strengths can illumine our paths.