Following on from my previous post about Intuition, it got me thinking further about the subject.
Intuition is readily accepted as a vital component in the creative process — how else would you know whether an idea is any good or not, other than to just feel it? But, I believe there's more to intuition than merely an inward looking, individual capability.
Intuition is the same for everybody. Intuition is very finely tuned. Like our eyesight, which though different from all other animals — as Brian Cox said, "all animals see the world differently" – but for every human, it's the same. So, for all the things we share — so much of which is brought to us by the media — our intuitive perception will be the same (the trick is how to read it).
Using Intuition as an insight, is based on the idea that — like our eyesight — we all feel the same about the world we live in. One reason it's often attracted derision is that it has connections beyond the individual — it's not personal opinion; it connects us to fellow humans through a common perception — we all feel the same. It also has a connection to the future — it's our evolved way of dealing with uncertainty of the future, the idea that everything ahead of us ultimately unknown. If you had to intellectually process that on a daily basis, your head would explode.
As humans, we all have two mental capacities — call it Intuition / Logic, Left brain / Right brain or System 1 / System 2, they're all basically the same idea; one's old and fast and the other's new and slow. But, the key to understanding these systems is that they're both perspectives — they're ways of making sense of the world around us. And Intuition is much closer to a sense than Intellect, because it's always on.
So, we could look at both Intuition and Intellect as being different perspectives — rather like two people sitting opposite each other in a restaurant.
We (humans) all have these two perspectives and, as Kahneman described, we rely on System 1 / Intuition more heavily than System 2 / Intellect. Much more — as Kahneman said, "Thinking is to humans, as swimming is to cats" — we can think, but we'd really rather not.
In recent years, we've seen probably the greatest manifestation of Intellect — interaction with computers in every aspect of our everyday lives. Computers are the triumph of logic — everything reduced to a series of yes/no 1/0 decisions. While it can be immensely liberating at times — no need to wonder why your train's late, just check the app — it can also be frustrating; think about navigating any automated call system with a question that's not on the menu. We now live in a world of logic.
But, for the marketing and advertising industry, the arrival of technology is divisive. Technology has revolutionised the media, fragmenting it and making it unrecognisably complicated in only a decade. Like the Air Ambulance Paradox, Marketers look to technology to help them solve the problems presented by technology. They're relying on data and logical analysis to help them identify and target audiences that technology has made illusive. But, consumers' response to the same changing environment, is very different — they're increasingly relying on their intuition, which is what we do when faced with anything complex or new or fast-changing. Intuition is human.
So, this sets up a cultural problem for all of us, and perhaps a more fundamental problem for the professionals whose job is it to understand consumers. The logic that underpins the algorithms and analysis used to identify audiences, for all its complexity, is just one perspective; one way of looking at the world. And you can bet that those who commission this work — marketers, researchers, analysts, planners — are all subject to their own biases of thinking that the world is only as they see it (what Kahneman calls What You See Is All There Is — WYSIATS).
There is also the concern that Logic drives behaviours — any communications or activity that arises from logic, will always look like what it is, logical behaviour. And consumers, who pay more attention to behaviours than they do messages, will see this is as inherently unemotional and inhuman (which it is) and thus feel distanced and alienated from the brands and their advertising. It's machines vs humans, logic vs intuition.
Take re-targeting algorithms, which serve up ads to your web browser based on your recent web searches. Now, I'm sure this capability must seem very clever to those who create and use it (I can see all the charts), but how does it feel to people on the receiving end of it? It feels creepy. That's the essential problem with logic-driven communications: marketers think a lot about the message and assume (because of WYSIATS) that's what consumers see. But, they don't. They see a bunch of the same web banners following them all across the web and it feels like they're being stalked. Never has Marshall McLuhan been so right.
Tim Harford's article in the FT yesterday, gives a lengthy account of the problems of big data — or found data, as he more accurately describes it — perhaps the most pernicious of which is the illusion that vast data sets provide enough correlation to the point where finding causality is unnecessary — “with enough data, the numbers speak for themselves” (Chris Anderson, “The End of Theory”, Wired, 2008).
The ability to use data and algorithms to see new patterns in behaviours is like having new and more powerful telescopes to see the universe — each iteration adding more levels of perception to find new patterns in the stars. But, even the best optical telescopes can't see what's not emitting light. If you want to peer into the darkness — the hidden motivations people aren't themselves aware of — you need another tool. You need to use another frequency. You need a radio telescope.
Both strands of research — Qual and Quant — are unable to peer into people's inner motivations. Focus groups are full of consumers with intelligent observations and stated preferences for products they walk past in the supermarket. When asked to voice their feelings, intellect intervenes and offers something clever that would never be acted on in real life. Algorithms that look for patterns in behaviour aren't able to see any kind of underlying cause.
Tim Harford describes the example of the Google Flu prediction — cited as a marquee triumph for Big Data, but that which was ultimately found to be inaccurate as it overstated the speed of the spread of the virus. While the data can reveal the behaviours, the underlying motivations remain obscured. And it was the emotional motivations — fear of flu, rather than flu itself — that undermined the algorithms' accuracy of prediction by prompting people to search for flu remedies ahead of its arrival, hence giving the illusion of fast-spreading epidemic. I believe that an Intuitive perspective could have offered an insight — that people are scared of flu — which might have been valuable, if only to make people think twice about the conclusions they were jumping to.
Intuitive insight isn't an alternative to logic. Intellectual analysis of data and information can tell us all sorts of things we didn't previously know, but where it has flaws or where it's confusing or where it's struggling, an intuitive perspective could help to clarify. If used wisely and listened to, it could help to stem the tide of logic-driven behaviours that we don't connect with. Maybe it might inform more human behaviours we recognise within ourselves.
Now, that would be intelligent.
So, I'm working on some ideas of how this might work, how could be applied and what the outputs might look like. If anybody's interested in talking to me about it — please give me a shout.