Gut check: HU prof, partners weigh link between data, intuition

The relationship between data and intuition is as old as business itself. But a professor at the Philadelphia location of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology recently authored a book with several colleagues that explores the interrelation of numbers and gut feeling in an era when data mining and analysis have spread to just about every discipline.

Jay Liebowitz, distinguished chair of applied business and finance, wrote “How Well Do Executives Trust Their Intuition?” with several colleagues from New York to Poland. Yolande E. Chan teaches at the J.R. Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. Tracy Jenkin is an associate professor at the Queen’s University business school. Dylan Spicker is a graduate of the school. Joanna Paliszkiewicz is a professor at Warsaw University of Life Sciences in Poland. And Fabio Babiloni earned his master’s degree in electronic engineering at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” and a doctorate in computational engineering at the Helsinki University of Technology.

Their efforts were published by CRC Press, a Florida-based company that specializes in technical books. The book, which retails at $129.95 in hardback, examines the Fulbright research conducted by the Liebowitz and his partners.

The research is garnering media attention across the Commonwealth- and Chief Executive Office magazine.

The main question of the book is: How well do executives trust their intuition?  In other words, do they typically prefer intuition over analysis and analytics? And equally importantly, what types of intuition may be most favorable looking at different variables?”

The research included 172 responses from various high-level executives from several countries: the United States, Italy, Poland and Canada. It includes insights into how people from various industries, academia and government have used intuition as a guide.

Liebowitz pointed to a 2016 study by KPMG that found that only a third of the 2,200 CEOs survey trusted their data and resulting analytics. Other research has shown that intuition still plays a large role in how decisions are made, he said. He also pointed to research paper done by a team at Elizabethtown College and confirmed by his team that showed four distinct types of intuition: affective intuition, or decision-making based on emotional reactions; inferential intuition, or judgments based on decision-making processes that were once analytical but have become intuitive with practice; holistic abstract intuition, or judgments based on theories; holistic big picture intuition, or judgments based on a full-systems approach.

As people gain more experience, their ability to apply intuition to heavy amounts of data happens more quickly because executives, in particular, have more confidence in the balance and have learned “big picture” intuition, he said. An example of where experience might hone intuition over data is in a medical field. A doctor might see all the overt signs of a disease in a patient even after what should have been an obvious cure. Experience and intuition might steer the doctor to a remedy that defies the data.

About Harrisburg University

Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Harrisburg University is a private non-profit university offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in science, technology, and math fields. For more information on the University’s affordable demand-driven undergraduate and graduate programs, call 717.901.5146 or email, Connect@HarrisburgU.edu.