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21 November 2007

Differential problem solving

Business and competitive intelligence practitioners are one of those often overlooked sources of insight into analytical tradecraft in situations, and with individuals, very different from those typically encountered on the normal pol sci / national security track. Many of those insights have surprising cross domain relevance to the intelligence community proper.

Thus it is with the following item examining the behaviors of various (non-intelligence) technical minded types when confronted with an analytical problem. The differences in mind-sets, approaches, and even processes employed by the two groups make for a fascinating little vignette regarding comparative styles of critical thinking. (While we may object to the conclusions drawn in many other items on this particular blog, we do occasionally find an item or two of interest. And of course, given that the author resides in Kent in the UK, we could not help but notice the blog.)

We recall a similar little thought experiment that was routinely conducted during a strategic intelligence analytic tradecraft class once commonly offered around the community. The exercise involved a group of practitioners and managers, usually from very different organizations and entities, trying to tackle a new “emerging” target account from soup to nuts – requirements definition, collection management, and analysis and production planning. We likewise recall the very differing approaches and styles that surfaced during those discussions. At the time, common wisdom tended to chalk this up to institutional culture – and in particularly, the reinforcing power of organizational stereotypes (and expectations of those stereotypes). A more subtle interpretation would be to examine the extent to which individuals came to those organizations, and to succeed within them, that were more likely to embrace those cultural norms and even stereotypical responses.

The benefits of this kind of cross domain discussion (if you can keep the participants from killing each other) is perhaps one of the strongest arguments we have heard voiced regarding the need to break the old ivory tower model, and to integrate collectors, analysts, and operators throughout key accounts – in close proximity to the policymakers.

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