Forget Big Data, Business Leaders Still Go With Their Gut, Study Says

Do you ever worry that robots will one day run our major corporations, making dispassionate decisions based strictly on big data and cold statistical analyses? Or maybe some of us think that time has already come?

Fear not, says a new study that looks at the roles of gut reaction, respect, trust and other emotions in high-level business decisions. They’re way more important, and perhaps underestimated, than previously believed.

The research, dubbed “Only Human: The Emotional Logic of Business Decisions,” comes from Time Inc.’s Fortune Knowledge Group and global advertising agency gyro. It found that there are human faces and sensitivities behind those c-suite mandates. Business is, in fact, personal.

Sixty-two percent of business leaders said they tend to trust their gut, and 61% said real-world insight tops hard analytics when making decisions. And they’re willing to put their money where their mouths are, with 68% saying that the potential reward for going out on a limb – leading with their hearts, in essence — outstrips the fear of failure or being blamed for making a bad call.

The study, with participation from 720 senior-level execs at companies with annual revenues upwards of $500 million, shows that “any big decision can’t be made in a vacuum of analytics,” said Christoph Becker, CEO and chief creative officer at gyro. “It’s underscored by a rational structure, but emotion has to lead.”

When executives are choosing a business partner, for instance, 65% of them said they increasingly consider subjective factors like company culture and corporate values. As the amount of information available to them increases – almost to the point of being overwhelming – execs said they place greater emphasis on “softer” factors, such as a business partner’s reputation. Only 16% of the participants disagreed.

Rather than jumping on a one-off deal that may lead to an immediate cash infusion, 71% of execs said they are more inclined to build long-term relationships, which Becker called a “golden response.”

“We’re so used to getting quick action on everything we do, and our world goes so fast,” Becker said, “This showed that business leaders want long-term partners. They want to find someone they can trust and build with over time.”

Consumers will feel the trickle down of such intuitive thinking, Becker said, as the majority of corporate leaders use logic, experience and relevance as their guides, trying to “touch instead of target” their audiences.