Puzzle Me

June 15, 2016

In competitive intelligence, you will often hear our analysis compared to doing a jigsaw puzzle:

“One way to look at intelligence is to visualize a jigsaw puzzle. You start with many individual pieces of data that initially seem to be meaningless and unconnected. When you put them together correctly, however, they produce a picture – valuable intelligence. One key difference between intelligence and a jigsaw puzzle is that, when you deal with intelligence, you may have to remove some of the pieces and not use them”. [1]

More recently, the finance world has focused on what it calls Mosaic theory. That is, wait for it, “a research approach whereby the [financial] analyst arrives at a conclusion by piecing together bits of publicly available information.”[2]

Why the difference? Well, Mosaic theory certainly makes the analysis sound harder than doing a jigsaw puzzle, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we just use that term?

To be fair, each stresses the power of sound, well-directed analysis applied to the results of diligent and focused data collection. And remember, without those pieces, whether you call them puzzle or mosaic pieces, there is nothing to analyze.

Now, back to the names. Mosaic theory has some association with issues in the criminal law, specifically search and seizure cases and insider trading of securities. If you are really curious, here are a couple of (not very easy, but very good recent) reads[3]. Suffice it to say, let’s stick with the term puzzle, and avoid mosaic. Leave that to financial analysts and archeologists.

[1] In fact, this was already an established analogy when Carolyn Vella and I used it in The Internet Age of Competitive Intelligence, 1999, Quorum Books, p. 104.

[2] http://www.investinganswers.com/financial-dictionary/financial-statement-analysis/mosaic-theory-5306 (accessed June 14, 2016).

[3] Orin S. Kerr, “The Mosaic Theory of the Fourth Amendment”, 111 Mich. L. Rev. 311 (2012), http://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr/vol111/iss3/1 and Allan Horwich, “The Mosaic Theory of Materiality – Does the Illusion have a future?” 43 Sec. Reg. L.J. 129 (2015) http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2397445.


One Comment on “Puzzle Me”

  1. tripkrant says:

    Again, Gregory Treverton’s forms of intelligence problems: Puzzles, Mysteries, & Complexities*

    *The “Puzzles & Mysteries” construct was developed shortly after the end of the Cold War – “complexities” is a late addition and is covered his recent book “National Intelligence and Science”. For a popularized version of “Puzzles & Mysteries”, see his now famous “Risks and Riddles” article in Smithsonian Magazine: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/risks-and-riddles-154744750/?no-ist


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