Intuition versus Machine Learning - The Future Leadership Dilemma


Posted on: December 20, 2016 by Marianne Hewlett

New technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing and cognitive analytics are emerging, empowering business leaders to make better, more informed and effective decisions. However, many executives are already comfortable with how they make decisions, choosing to go with their gut instinct over data analytics. In fact, according to a recent Forbes & PwC survey, two-thirds of business leaders say their own company’s decision-making is only somewhat or rarely data-driven. But should leaders trust their instinct or embrace data-driven decision making?

Great leaders make smart decisions

Many top executives cite intuition as the reason for their success, with leadership often being associated with decisiveness and quick thinking. Seasoned leaders are not only confident in their instincts but also adept at making others feel confident in their judgement. Despite being aware of the machine power on offer and wanting to be more data-driven however, many executives are choosing to discount this approach. The Forbes and PwC report, goes on to mention that this is because the data presented to them by their teams is often unclear or unfamiliar. On the other hand, going with our gut can help us to make faster, more accurate decisions, with human decision-making based on more than just instinct. We make choices based on other factors such as our experiences, values and empathy.

Data-driven decision-making

In this fast-paced, digitally-driven world however, executives need to increase decision speed, and using data analytics can help them uncover patterns that lead to new predictions and deliver insight. As the amount of data increases, the importance of human judgment should go down, with information being used to make more fact-based decisions. Some go as far as to say that computers will eventually become more intelligent than humans. This belief is based on Moore’s Law, and the fact that with increased processing power comes a simultaneous increase in machines’ capabilities to process more information in more complex forms, leading to comparisons with the human brain. Data can be used for experimentation and discovery, to signal to leaders that their intuition is off and to help them reach better, more informed conclusions.

Striking a balance

To be a great leader in the ‘intelligence age’, executives must strike a delicate balance between human and machine thinking. To become truly data-driven will require organizations to have the leadership strength and talent to use the right information at the right time and take action. Of course, human judgment is at the center of all successful data analysis, because humans design the algorithms in the first place. And, while huge advancements in Artificial Intelligence have the potential to transform decision making in businesses, computers should be seen as a powerful complement rather than a replacement for human interaction. It’s about using judgement to ask the right questions, taking advantage of data to get an acute awareness of every aspect of the organization and turning that insight into a powerful capability to make business decisions.

Check out Journey 2020 to find out more about how intelligent systems are transforming the way we work, and how people are collaborating with machines and virtual ‘beings’ in entirely new ways.

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About Marianne Hewlett

Senior Vice President and member of the Scientific Community
Marianne Hewlett is a Senior Vice President at Atos and a seasoned marketeer and communications expert. Passionate about connecting people, technology and business, she is a member of the Atos Scientific Community where she explores the Future of Work and the impact of technology on individuals, organizations and society. She is a strong ambassador for diversity and inclusivity – and particularly encourages female talent to pursue a career in IT – as she believes a diverse and happy workforce is a key driver for business success. As an ambassador for the company’s global transformation program Wellbeing@work, she explores new technologies and ways of working that address the needs of current and future generations of employees. A storyteller at heart, she writes about the human side of business and technology and posts include insights into the future of work, the science of happiness, and how wellbeing and diversity can drive success.

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