Intuition Demystified: Why being data-driven and using your intuition aren’t as different as you think

Sari Harrison

Head of Product at Esalen



"Data-driven, data-informed, KPIs, success metrics, A/B testing, prototypes, insights, intuition, market research, surveys, usability testing, gut, user empathy... How on earth is a team supposed to decide what to do next?"

Actions taken

Are you the user?

"The less 'like' the user the people on the team are, the more work you need to do to create an optimal microbiome. If you are a bunch of millennials trying to create an app for millennials then you don't have to work as hard as if you are a very diverse team looking to make an app for people in retirement homes. So that's the first question you should ask yourselves. But be careful. Are you really the 'same' as your target users in ways that matter to the problem space?"


"A very common mistake people make is needing metrics to be 'actionable'. The way to use metrics (beyond A/B testing which is another topic) is to immerse in them. Try a weekly meeting where you alternate the person running it and they bring a metrics topic to the table. The goal of the meeting is simply to discuss the topic. Why does the metric make sense? Why doesn't it? What ideas does looking at it spark? What other questions do you have now? The actions from this meeting can certainly be tracked."


"The so often quoted reason for not doing qualitative research. Henry Ford apparently said (although there are some doubts about this) that if he had asked people what they wanted when he was building the first car, they would've said 'a faster horse'. The implication being it's a waste of time to ask people what they want. Well, I respectfully disagree. Here is what that conversation would look like with a good PM at the helm. Customer: 'What I really want is a faster horse' PM: 'Interesting. Tell me more about why that would help you.' Customer: 'Oh wow, thanks for asking. My horse sometimes goes slow and sometimes fast and it's hard to control it. I guess it gets tired or hungry? What I really want is to get somewhere when I need to be there and not have it be so dependent on my horse's current state.' A suggested feature is just a starting point for understanding customer pain. And good user research isn't asking for feature requests anyway."


"If focus groups are tricky, surveys are rocket science. Seriously. Just asking a question has often primed the answer in some way that you may not have intended. But there is value in them if you (again) don't try too hard to make them 'actionable.' A better way is to try and validate a hypothesis by looking at metrics. Or to get scaled data about something that came up in a focus group that you find yourselves wondering if it is more broadly true."

Lessons learned

"I hope you are now convinced that it's not about using your intuition for some decisions and being data-driven for others. It's about gathering the necessary 'data' to build empathy for your users so that you can innovate on their behalf. The more you are able to really be the user, the more your ideas will truly serve them in the end and the better you will be able to recognize the ideas that will actually make their lives better."

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Sari Harrison

Head of Product at Esalen

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