The surprising power of testing your gut instinct for business

4 min. read | Last updated: December 16th, 2018

You can’t analyze how a great painting makes you feel. You can’t compute the beauty of a sunset. There’s no algorithm for the ocean’s majesty.

Similarly, some of the best ideas in business come in a wonderful, inexplicable flashes of insight.

I was in New York for a couple days this week and then in Tofino, a beautiful beach town perched on a rock outcropping on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island.

The experience of the ocean, wind, rain, fog, sun and golden eagles can’t be explained. It must be felt.

I think it was particularly poignant in contrast to New York’s bustle. Now, I love New York; it gets in your bones. It’s the closest place I’ve found to get real Neapolitan-style pizza. And it’s bustle might just as well be a different planet than Tofino.

Chris Goward in New York and Tofino
Contrasting immersive experiences

Those contrasting immersive experiences got me thinking about how much we can rely on data versus intuition in decision-making. How much should we be able to rationalize versus feel?

Using your subconscious thinking system

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman tells us that we have two ways of making decisions: System 2 is our controlled, conscious where we make choices and decisions. System 1 operates in the background, monitoring our environment constantly and forming impressions from this information. It’s our intuitive “Spidey sense” that gives us an intuitive feel about what we’re sensing.

Kahneman tells us that System 1, our subconscious awareness, informs our System 2 thinking more than we often think. And overreliance on System 2 results in tunnel vision.

Even before Kahneman’s research, Maxwell Maltz described how to trust your brain’s Servo Mechanism to find answers for you subconsciously. In Psycho-Cybernetics, he shows how to combine intense, focused research and thinking with periods of rest and percolation time. Your brain has the ability to solve problems for you without your conscious effort.

How often have you come up with great ideas when you least expect them? As you’re falling asleep, perhaps? Or while talking with a friend about a different subject? That’s your Servo Mechanism at work.

Solutions don’t always come from purely logical step-by-step deduction. You won’t find the best answers solely through analysis.

A/B testing enables more intuition, not more data

This week I’m reading On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis. It’s a classic, inspiring leadership since 1989, and much of it could have been written today. Warren says:

American organizational life is a left-brain culture, meaning logical, analytical, technical, controlled, conservative, and administrative. We, to the extent we are its products, are dominated and shaped by those same characteristics. Our culture needs more right-brain qualities, needs to be more intuitive, conceptual, synthesizing and artistic.

This is exactly what an A/B testing culture enables. By relying on A/B testing to validate decision-making, a company can use more intuition rather than less.

Now, you may question how I can claim this: Isn’t A/B testing a logical process?

Yes, it is.

But, it actually helps reduce your reliance on logic. Hear me out for a moment.

Without a rigorous A/B testing system, companies need much more research, rationale, business cases, and cross-departmental stakeholder buy-in to make decisions. Decisions become complex and people often use CYA methodology for backing themselves up. (CYA = Cover Your Ass, in case you’re new to organizational behaviour.)

All that rationale building takes time. Lots of time. It slows decision-making and turns nimble companies into bureaucratic dinosaurs.

Daniel Kahneman also made this observation.

Because adherence to standard operating procedures is difficult to second-guess, decision makers who expect to have their decisions scrutinized with hindsight are driven to bureaucratic solutions—and to an extreme reluctance to take risks

But, in A/B testing-driven companies, decisions are made quickly, combining the power of professional intuition and expert gut-feeling with rigorous testing.

Yes, we use plenty of structure and process for developing powerful test hypotheses, but we also are open to the inspirational eureka moments where preparation meets inspiration.

Using testing to empower your intuition

When those inspiring ideas strike, you don’t need to backfill binders of research to support a decision—you can simply test it. The risk of a bad decision is eliminated when it’s a test.

If your company feels stuck in analysis paralysis, maybe you need more testing. You can then worry less about building strict A to Z logic and, instead, go with your gut a little more. Let your hair down. Try something different. Combine innovation with rigour. Rock your market with your flashes of (tested) insight.

The secret to A/B testing success

I’m often asked how WiderFunnel continues to lift our clients’ profits year after year. Our current average of 945% ROI across all clients is not an easy benchmark to maintain.

The secret is a mix of messy intelligence-building with rigorous process, including continuous A/B testing of all our ideas. I read 50+ books a year and our entire team is just as focused on learning new things all the time.

We practice lateral thinking, learning in diverse subjects, work in diverse industries and hire diverse skillsets to create our cross-functional team.

All that diversity of raw material consolidates into startlingly simple insights that deliver powerful results.

  • The winning headline that can’t be deduced
  • The strange call-to-action that compels visitors to convert
  • The obscure image concept that communicates the message
  • The new website design or page layout approach that dramatically clarifies navigation.

All combined rigorous preparation and testing with trusting our gut to take risks and try new things.

We are mavericks, continuously taking emotional risk by releasing new ideas into the wild and removing that perceived risk with testing.

What gut feeling intuition have you tested lately?


Chris Goward

Founder & CEO

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