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25 June 2007

Understanding analytic productivity

We have been increasingly interested in the radical changes to analytical functions, and the glimmers of what could be serious new changes in analytic tradecraft best practices that might result, caused by the increasing emphasis on new fusion centers, watch desks, and other operations-focused environments.

These are environments starkly different from the typical analyst-in-a-cube model of previous generations. While they are a departure from the conventional, they are not entirely unique. One can look to many WWII and Vietnam era intelligence operations centers and analytical cells as prior examples – also focused on (then) current and contingency operations. We are even jaded enough to recall the once vogue idea of the “war room” for every crisis, taken to its highest pinnacle by the political campaign types and the competitive intelligence folks. (We recall Fuld even had a virtual training package by the same name for the corporate types).

Fads come and go. However, there are elements of enduring value to the fusion center model, else it would continually be re-discovered. Some of these may simply be administrative – reducing the friction of security coordination requirements for meetings, co-locating agencies and networks which might otherwise hide behind their insularity, or simply creating an entity with enough bureaucratic throw weight to fight for and hold its own independent analytical judgments. Others we suspect have more to do with the productivity of the fusion center environment – the energies of such places, and the pressures of the mission, are felt much more keenly throughout. Ops tempo is always higher – occasionally even approaching the speed at which crisis events or major accounts are actually moving - no mean feat, this, when most of the workforce is wedded to a 9 to 5 or shorter mentality.

In light of these considerations, we have been keenly curious as to why such greater productivity might result. We have our own theories regarding the insights created by connectivity and the effects of stimulus on analyst performance, but we also know this is only part of the answer. Other elements lie in culture, and still more in the field of cognitive psychology.

Web Worker Daily has an interesting piece on the implications of the latter for knowledge workers of all types, in reaction to an increasing media backlash against newer production models. We don’t know that we buy into these theories, yet, but it is interesting to see them surfaced and to play with them in the context of our profession. In many ways, the community is quite a bit further behind the curve in this area, as the unique demands of security and exclusivity have kept many of the mobility and multi-function innovations from rapid introduction. However, things are proceeding apace (especially in light of new demands created by homeland security and military support to tactical operations), and we expect in the coming years to grapple with the same kinds of issues.

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