Ian McVey

On intuition and insight

BBC Radio 1, broadcast bastion of the popular song, has declared that it will stop relying on data and allow its employees to trust their musical instincts when picking the station’s play list.

It seems that following the herd in pursuit of what is trending on Spotify and you tube is no longer to be encouraged by a station that wants its presenters to choose songs according to their passions and not third party sources.

I wonder if Radio 1 will still play the songs people want to hear, or whether it will march to an altogether more eclectic tune? The station already plays vastly more original music than its commercial competitors ‘Capital’ and ‘Heart’, but despite the wider choice of songs, the growth in streaming services, digital UK radio and even international stations available on line, listeners still seem to gravitate to a small number of the biggest hits on popular stations, which in turn explains the success of commercial radio and its tendency to ‘play it safe’.

The broadcaster’s move poses two salient questions. To what extent should an organisation base its decisions on data or intuition, and do consumers like change, or prefer what they know, the songs they can sing along to?

On the matter of data, Radio 1 may appear to be swimming against the tide, but behind their decision will be another stream of data that challenges accepted wisdom. In one way or another, they will be depending on one set of insights to defy another. Overall, however, I agree that data based decision making should never substitute intuition, rather it should challenge it. Certainly, the more data is available, the sharper the outcome will be, but in cases of crisis, or where it is incomplete, ambiguous or inconclusive, the CEO will be expected to take decisions, armed with the scientific evidence to hand.

On the subject of choice, the mere act of offering it does not guarantee customers will exercise it. In an ever changing world, people often stick to what they know, just as travellers abroad often levitate to a Starbucks or an Irish Pub, in search of the reassuringly familiar, or a benchmark against which to compare more eclectic, local competition.

Change is hard to effect, people act on their instincts once prompted by peers or social commentary. It needs to be championed and then bedded in.

Perhaps it boils down to trust. As a blue blooded Englishman, I am predisposed by my DNA to trust the BBC and John Lewis. As a fully engaged and socially active consumer, I am likely to trust TripAdvisor. And as somebody who welcomes disruption and intelligent competition, I will take an Uber rather than a black cab.
But whatever my reality, I am far less likely to trust a company that has tripped me up, ignored me, failed to apologise or deceived me in some way. Such companies are the least likely to succeed in changing my mindset.

In the brave new world of big data analytics that is slowly helping to inform corporate strategy and management decision, it is refreshing to come across an organisation that appears to be bucking the trend, (even if it is merely replacing one trend with another) and I look forward to revisiting Radio 1 six months hence to hear of their success. I have yet to see research that suggests consumers place more trust in companies that offer us services based on their intuition than their data, or vice versa, and Radio 1 might be an interesting case in point.