We’ve all been there, faced with making a choice. Maybe when you know that you’ll be meeting a new person for the first time, or when you have to make a choice at work after a brainstorming session. What is it that makes you choose that person or product in particular? It might just feel like the right decision. What kind of subconscious prioritisations actually enable you to make a choice?

One definition of gut feeling is that you feel in yourself what is true or false, right or wrong, smart or stupid in a given situation. When the choice isn’t very clear, people tend to choose what their instinct tells them is right. This is based on an advanced cognitive system that has been developed over many generations. In which situations do I need to flee, in which direction should I run? Old lessons learned that have been hard-coded into our DNA. Do I dare eat this kind of food, or should I stay with what I’m used to? Gut feeling means that we can make quick decisions, but it doesn’t always have to be the best one.

Testosterone provides a false sense of security
In April 2017, researchers at the California Institute of Technology released an article about how high levels of testosterone can contribute to a reduced time for cognitive reflection. This means that you choose quickly, but might not always have the right answer. The test subjects had to apply a testosterone gel/placebo to their body before performing simple calculations as quickly as possible. The study was only conducted on men, as the gel containing the testosterone had only been tested and approved for men. The results revealed that those with heightened testosterone levels responded both more quickly and more often incorrectly than those who were given the placebo. Testosterone can therefore limit the process of mentally checking your work, it increases the intuitive sense that “I’m definitely right”. In stressful situations, testosterone levels rise and increase the risk of an incorrect decision.

Act first, ask later…
But it’s not always a bad thing to make a quick, incorrect decision in the innovation process. If the team is really unable to make a choice, a decision can allow you test the solution. Without a decision, the discussion can start to fragment and it

becomes increasingly difficult to actually see what requirements have to be met. In that case, a decision has to be made so that the solution can be tested. Because it is during testing that statistics are created and answers generated, whether or not the solution is a good one.

Even user tests can go wrong
One example of how important it is to test the end product with its actual customers was a lesson that the fruit juice brand Tropicana had to learn the hard way. When they wanted to freshen up their appearance and image (2009), the user testing went wrong, Tropicana failed to take their most important customers with them. These were the loyal, passionate, fruit juice drinkers who wanted the very best. After the launch of the new packaging design, within only two months they had lost no less than 20% of their sales, representing around 30 million dollars.

The lesson for Tropicana was that they had very loyal customers who wanted to have that premium feel. By replacing all the graphical components in the packaging design in one go, all of the product’s carefully developed image disappeared. If they had instead replaced a little at a time, customers would have been able to get used to the transition, while still recognising which brand they were buying, and there wouldn’t have been an outcry from the users.

The reason why they changed the appearance initially was that they believed it was important to update the brand with a more modern appearance. Such a major decision should be made on the basis of a number of different studies of how users will react and what the customer actually wants. But what do you do when the statistics are misleading?

Use gut feeling in the right way
With experience of what your target group is, you can use your gut feeling to guess when statistics don’t correspond with reality. Use your gut feeling to guide you to information about the choice you are facing. If your gut feeling says yes, find out why. Take risks, but have data to back up your choice.

About the author:

Sara Alaeus, Interaction Designer at Avalon Innovation