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Netflix CMO Bozoma Saint John says we should trust our intuition over data

Bozoma Saint John speaks at TEDMonterey on August 2, 2021. TEDMonterey: The Case for Optimism. August 1-4, 2021, Monterey, California.
Bret Hartman / TED
Intuition over integers.
  • Anne Quito
By Anne Quito

Design and architecture reporter

Published

Netflix has attributed much of its success to big data. Using analytics to predict viewing patterns has catapulted the 24-year-old entertainment company to the top of the video streaming wars, with over 209 million current subscribers. But one of its top executives believes in a different strategy.

Addressing luminaries from tech and business at the TED conference earlier this month, Netflix chief marketing officer Bozoma Saint John, who argued that we need to free ourselves from “the endless weight of data” that “keeps us bound so that we can’t move into the future.”

Freedom, she argued, comes with honoring our instincts. “I am here to recruit you to a liberation movement,” she said.

Where good ideas come from

Saint John, 44, joined Netflix in 2020 after holding executive roles in branding and marketing at companies including Uber, Apple, and PepsiCo.

She contends that innovation occurs not when we are poring over analytics, but when we set aside the spreadsheets. “Ideas are based off of electricity…They sprint here and they go here and they move there—they’re non-linear. They’re like daydreams, and intuition gets you there.”

Having innate confidence also helps. In a 2017 interview with Tim Ferris, Saint John revealed why she never relies on the usual decision-making tools, like pro/con lists, when handling a major decision. “When I make pro and con lists, it’s usually because I want to talk myself out of a good idea or talk myself into a really bad one,” she explained. “Every single time that I did not listen to what my spirit was telling me, it was wrong, even if I rationalized [it] to myself. … Learning to trust that—call it whatever you want, spirit, gut, inner voice, there are lots of words for it—has been a real process.”

Saint John’s advice feels like a throwback at a time when an obsession with collecting and visualizing data has taken hold of nearly every aspect of business culture. “Sometimes data is the pill that we take to calm our insecurity about what we intuitively know,”she observed at TED. “I’m advocating that we decrease the dosage of our data and that we increase the implementation of our intuition. You’ll feel great. You really will. You will prove to yourself that the power of your intuition is actually accurate.”

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