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Posts Tagged ‘Intelligence Community and MorganFranklin’

Move Away from the ‘Tyranny of Urgent’ and Take the Time to Think

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

When I served in the U.S. Army, we had a saying: “Knocking down 50-meter targets.” The idea was that while qualifying on the rifle range, a common error was for shooters to put all of their effort (and bullets) into knocking down the close pop-up targets at the expense of the longer (and admittedly more challenging) 200-, 250-, and 300-meter targets. Obviously, this had a negative effect on a shooter’s effectiveness, not to mention final score. My sense is that all too often, leaders and intelligence analysts are guilty of making this error—knocking down 50-meter targets at the expense of longer-range goals. Simply put, we focus on the urgent, but not always the important.

Put another way, if we as leaders and intelligence professionals are not fencing adequate time to think deeply, we are not being fully effective. Too often we run around like the proverbial “chicken with its head cut off,” knocking down 50-meter targets but never getting around to the truly significant tasks. We answer e-mails, attend countless meetings, and tend to personnel, resource, and technology challenges. But we never seem to get around to reflecting on long-range issues and casting a vision for the future.

It takes discipline to go deep. This type of thinking is counter to so much of our world—with its 20-second commercials, texting, and instant gratification. Again, for the effective leader and intelligence analyst, there must be a time when we can push away from the tyranny of the urgent, prop our feet up on the desk, and think.

Looking back, I only served in one unit during my Army career where I personally experienced such deep thinking. One special operations organization that I served in was very intentional when thinking about how the unit should look in five, 10, 15, and even 20 years. It held regular technology boards to focus on technology considerations, in concert with focusing on personnel manning, resources, and other areas. Key leaders arrived at these events prepared to articulate their views, and they were critically involved in these regular efforts. Not surprisingly, the commander or deputy commander always chaired these efforts.

The military provides a reliable, time-tested process to assist us: the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). It is characterized by mission analysis, course of action development, course of action comparison (including the decision matrix tool), and the eventual decision. While this framework was created for staffs and commanders, its tools can also benefit individuals—even in a truncated format. For example, one can create criteria and use a decision matrix to consider, that is, think deeply about any challenge.

The good news is that we can get this process started anywhere. The technique I use is scribbling down an initial note to return to and pay careful attention to at a later time.


Remember that half of the phrase “intelligence analyst” is analyst. By definition and identity, we must be deep thinkers. Our supported senior intelligence officers and leaders cannot do their jobs without our fencing time for thinking and then making informed recommendations. They are counting on us to fulfill this purpose.

Intelligence and Imagery Analysts: Avoiding Daily Work Pitfalls

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

As members of the intelligence community (IC), we are highly trained and work on very important and sensitive assignments. While it goes without saying that protecting our national assets both at home and abroad requires a high level of passion, tireless dedication, and extreme attention to detail, there are patterns that intelligence and imagery analysts can easily fall into that can compromise the overall effectiveness of our efforts. After all, we are human.

Conversely, because we are human, we can always improve our skills and efforts. One of the best ways to improve our efforts is by taking a hard look at the pitfalls that we confront on a daily basis.

  • Argument to the Stick – We have all been in forums where someone—perhaps in a position of authority—asks something like, “Nobody here is stupid enough to believe the Steelers will really win the Super Bowl this year, right?” This kind of statement is illogical and stifles debate. Regarding sports, it can be endearing and even humorous. But when dealing with substantive discussions, such as a potential enemy course of action (COA), the stakes are high and “argument to the stick” can be dangerous, shutting down potential dialogue that may determine the appropriate course of action.
  • Missing the Big Picture – Imagery analysts are required to research, assess, integrate, manipulate, exploit, extract, and analyze full-motion video as well as satellite imagery. These tasks require a keen eye for detail, but because we are detail-oriented, we often miss the “big picture.” As such, we may need to step back to fully understand the core of a mission and its goals. Once this is achieved, the details will fall into place.

  • Group Think – Often when subordinate advisors are in awe of a leader and believe that he/she has already made their decision, we fall into a “group think” mode where we automatically agree with the leader or the group in general. For example, when President Kennedy asked his advisors for their counsel on a potential Bay of Pigs invasion, he was well respected and most thought he was already in support of the idea. As a result, nobody spoke up to articulate the significant risk of mission failure—or the implications for the United States’ image throughout the world.

  • Mirror Imaging – When we think about a COA only from our own subjective point of view, we do not take into account the unorthodox tactics that the enemy may employ. For example, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, most intelligence professionals were convinced that such an attack just didn’t make sense. At the time, the potential bad outweighed short-term advantages that the Japanese would gain. Despite this logic, the Japanese concluded that a surprise attack was their best COA to knock out the U.S. as a potential opponent in the Pacific Theater.

  • Personal Biases – Personal biases spring from our culture, education, and upbringing—and we all have them. All too often, intelligence and imagery analysts fall back on their personal biases when making decisions, sometimes without being fully aware of it. There are many examples throughout history where personal biases influenced decisions and outcomes. For example, General Custer did not believe that the American Indians would take a stand against him, but history proved that his personal bias and views got him into trouble.

Working in high-stakes environments where the margin of error is miniscule, imagery and intelligence analysts often need to take proactive steps to break daily patterns that can compromise our work. While we are only human, the job often requires us to perform at levels beyond human abilities. And when it comes to saving lives and protecting our nation, there is no room for error.

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