Don't Rely on Data Alone. Trust Your Gut.

July 28, 2015

The Right KeyAnyone in business today is swamped with data. This chart shows you one thing while another can totally contradict it. When I stepped down as President and CEO, I said the hotel business was getting too complicated, to which my long-time assistant Phyllis said, “It’s your own fault.  You made it that way.”

I guess she’s partially right.

I’ve always hired people smarter than me, especially when it came to finance. Sure, they have to know numbers, but most importantly they have to translate what those numbers mean. In our Revenue Management department, we hired a rocket scientist.  Boy, can he explain things – room occupancies, RevPars, rates, luxury brand trends.

I worry, though. Even with our very smart team, I worry that we are sometimes getting too bogged down in the numbers to see the forest. We receive daily results showing room occupancy. We know where our customers click to book a room with us. Instant data.

These metrics lead to strategic analytics. You throw all this in a blender and … I scratch my head.

Sure, numbers help, but leadership is about making the call and relying on something far more valuable – your gut. Data analysts haven’t found a formula for that.

Trusting your gut comes from experience. I’ve been in the business for 60 years, and I’ve had every kind of experience you can imagine. We’ve weathered major stock market downturns, the Great Recession and 9/11. As a result, the gut trust becomes stronger the more experience you have. At the same time, you really have to listen to everybody that’s on your team as to what they think, what their problems are, what their concerns are.

Here’s an example from my time at the company: We had an opportunity to invest in another business that was not our core business.

I had people on one side saying we should do it because we can make a lot of money. On the other side, we had people saying don’t do it, let’s stay with and focus on the core lodging business.

Our lodging business is one that we finally arrived at after being in 15 or 20 different kinds of businesses in the last 40 years. At our most diverse, there was no way we could keep track of all those businesses. Nobody understood why we were in it all. So, we got out of it.

Now, we’re focused on lodging, and I feel good that we can stay focused on one business and be the world’s favorite travel company.

So when I listened to the arguments, my experienced gut told me that I didn’t want to invest in another business. We decided against it.

Do you trust your instincts? When and when have you not?

I'm Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the move.

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