Is gut feeling inherently bad?

Gut feeling.

The sensation you get when you have a hunch. You know what to do.

Is that hunch good or bad? Should you push it to the side or should you embrace it?

Let’s explore these questions.

According to psychology, gut feeling, or intuition, is how our brain makes use of past experiences, along with internal signals and cues from the environment, to help us make a decision.

Over the last 10 or so years, product teams have become more data-driven, adopting methodologies like the Lean Startup. This shift has conditioned us to depend heavily on data for decision-making. “Let’s A/B test it?” might now be a common mantra in your team.

A while back, I had a conversation with a head of product. We were discussing the concept of valuing “data” over “opinions.” The head of product became increasingly bothered as we discussed the topic:

“Should I not go with my instinct or gut feeling? I have been working closely with customers for 20 years. I know what they need. I have been in their shoes. I know their struggles. I can’t just push these insights to the side.”

Noticing the built-up tension, I stated:

“It’s amazing that you have such clarity on customers’ needs. That gives the entire company a competitive edge: you have built solid product intuition. You are in tune with your target market. It’s something that I don’t see in many organizations.

However, there is one problem.

You need to be open to other data points that might challenge your assumptions. If you just rely on your own instinct, there is a lot of risk. What if you are wrong? What if your insights are outdated? What if customers are starting to change patterns?”

The debate continued.

Shreyas Doshi explains this beautifully:

“Domain knowledge minus domain dogma.”

Essentially, don’t discard the proverbial muscle you have built through countless customer interactions and from being in-tune with the market, but be aware of the dogma of your market, the “truths” that are not always truths. To do so, you need to be open to challenge norms.

A good rule of thumb that I’ve learned from my colleagues at Crisp is the power of triangulation.

When you are making a decision relating to your future product work, have at least three sources of insights, for example:

  • Customer/end-user insights: Learnings from talking to customers and end-users.
  • Data: Reviewing analytics.
  • Market: Research on how your market or adjacent markets are moving.

If you have at least three sources and perspectives, patterns will emerge.

To sum up, don’t push your gut feeling to the side—nor rely too much on it. Always balance it with other sources of insights. By doing so, you will create even more successful products.

To paraphrase Christian Idiodi and Marty Cagan from their latest podcast episode where they discussed “coaching product sense”: “The best product managers are the ones who are inherently curious.”

How curious are you?

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