Intuition And Data

Mohamed Kamal

CEO and Cofounder of Unbias

How do we make choices when faced with risk and uncertainty? This fundamental question was addressed by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979 with their groundbreaking “Prospect Theory,” challenging conventional economic thought. Today, I’d like to delve into this paradox of intuition and data. This post might take you 5 minutes to read.

For further reading, Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow” and Michael Lewis’s “The Undoing Project,” which delves into the story behind the theory, are highly recommended reads.

Expected Utility Theory is a mathematical way of saying that people make rational choices by calculating the best outcomes. For example, if you were offered a 50/50 bet to win $100 or lose $100, the theory says you should be indifferent to this gamble, as the expected value is zero.

$100 x 50% – $100 x 50% = $0

But life isn’t so simple. Experiments show that we humans don’t actually behave this way. Kahneman and Tversky found that how gains and losses are framed matters more to us than our final wealth. They discovered that small probabilities are often given too much weight, while moderate ones are neglected. Most interestingly, they found that losses seem to affect us more than gains. We’re more upset about losing $100 than we are happy about gaining $100.

Kahneman and Tversky’s Prospect Theory became a groundbreaking alternative model that looked at human behavior more realistically. It considered our natural aversion to loss, how we weigh different odds, and how our risk preferences change between gains and losses. In short, it recognized that we’re not always rational; we have our biases and emotional quirks.

Now, what does all of this mean for us in the music industry? You see, when we invest in a new record, we’re making a high-risk decision. We’re betting on success without knowing for sure which song will become successful. It’s a gamble, and how you weigh the odds and approach the risks might not always be logical. Prospect Theory reveals these human tendencies—sometimes irrational—that influence your decisions.

Our brains have evolved in fascinating ways, but not necessarily for calculated odds in this way. We rely on intuition and gut feeling that can mislead us. We might overweight the tiny odds of a song going viral and underweight the moderate odds of a song doing just fine. The way a choice is framed might alter its perceived value.

Investing time, resources and efforts in records has its parallels to gambling at casinos or betting at horse tracks. There are always more losers than winners. Most lose money; a few break even, and just a couple of hits pay for the rest. Risky, biased choices might include throwing good money after a flop or under-funding a newcomer to protect previous hits.

For independent artists or labels operating on tight budgets, the application of Prospect Theory becomes even more pronounced. The limited resources create higher stakes for each decision made. A misstep could have significant consequences.

This is where the biases identified by Prospect Theory can heavily influence choices. Independent artists might be more susceptible to loss aversion, fearing to take a risk that could lead to a loss of their scarce resources. Conversely, they might overvalue the slim chance of a major success, directing their limited funds toward a risky marketing campaign that promises high rewards but has a low probability of paying off.

The influence of these biases can lead to a paradox: artists need to take risks to break through and find their audience, yet they might be particularly averse to those risks due to their limited resources.

At least today, we have AI to correct our biases and might be the next step in enhancing our betting strategy. Yet, life is full of uncertainties, be it in music or elsewhere. But understanding our biases is only the beginning; how do we deal with them? Daniel Kahneman delved deeper into this question by looking at how our mind works in two distinct ways: System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is our instinctive and intuitive side, making quick judgments and often guided by our gut feelings. System 2, on the other hand, is more deliberate, logical, and takes its time to analyze information. Both systems have their value, but they can sometimes conflict with each other, especially when we’re faced with complex decisions.

Kahneman suggests that being aware of these two systems can help us make better choices. For artists and labels, it might mean creating a balance between intuition and data. Embracing the passionate, intuitive side of music creation while also employing data-driven strategies to understand the market can lead to a more nuanced and successful approach.

Insights into System 1 and System 2 thinking aren’t just theoretical musings; they offer a practical approach for decision-making. He emphasizes that not all decisions are equal, and understanding when to trust intuition and when to rely on data is key.

Intuition, our System 1 thinking, works best in familiar situations, where we have a lot of experience and can recognize patterns quickly. We might find that when writing or performing music, intuition leads the way. It’s the spark of creativity, the unexplainable gut feeling that a particular melody or tune is just right. Or knowing if a record is going to work on a specific audience or not.

However, intuition can sometimes be led astray by errors, biases, and what Kahneman refers to as “noise” – those random distractions that cloud our judgment. Consider the decision-making process when releasing a new record or marketing one. It’s a complex task that requires considering many factors such as audience preferences, market trends, production costs, and potential competition.

While your intuition might guide you towards a certain direction, perhaps based on past success or a gut feeling about the artist’s potential, it could also be swayed by noise, such as recent hype around an artist, style or undue influence from an opinionated journalist. In these situations, a careful analysis of data, like streaming statistics, and audience demographics, can offer a clearer path.

That’s not to say data is devoid of noise. Inconsistent judgments can still cloud our decision-making. Kahneman suggests that combining intuition with systematic methods can help reduce both bias and noise. It’s about understanding when a situation calls for a quick intuitive judgment, and when it requires careful analysis.

My key takeaway from their paper are:

A) How information is presented, or framed, can have a profound impact on our decision-making. It’s not merely about the raw facts, but the way they are communicated can lead us to view risks and rewards differently. The ideal way to frame a situation is to be provided both perspectives or to use language that doesn’t inherently favor one outcome over the other. The goal is to achieve a clear, unbiased view of the options, allowing us to make a choice that truly aligns with their values and understanding of the risks and benefits.

B) Intuition is often rooted in experience and pattern recognition. When faced with familiar scenarios, quick and seemingly instinctual decisions are made. However, when venturing into unknown territories, where patterns and experiences don’t apply, relying on intuition can be risky. Winging it without experience could be a mistake. By recognizing when to trust intuition and when to rely on data, you can make more wins and improve your outcomes.

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