Finding analysts

Within the community of intelligence educators, there is a discussion about how to establish who are really good analysts. That is, how do we test for it, interview for it, or something else?

With this in mind, I found a recent article in Smithsonian Online, “Elegant Mathematical Formulas Activate the Same Brain Region As Music And Art”[1], very interesting. The general thesis of the article is that certain portions of the brain are stimulated, in people with a mathematical bent, by viewing elegant mathematical equations, the same way the same region is stimulated by fine art for those of that bent.

What does it have to do with an analyst? Think of the statement by a Supreme Court justice, who when struggling to define hard-core pornography, is credited with saying “I know it when I see it”.

Is it possible that we can determine who is a good analyst only by seeing how well they respond to succeeding at or reviewing a good piece of analysis? I know that one thing that I always enjoy is the “gotcha” moment, that moment when a piece of data that you suspected was there came into your possession and enables you to complete the puzzle that is competitive intelligence analysis. Does that make me a good analyst?

Perhaps what we can do is to test potential analysts and see how happy they are or how much they enjoy completing a difficult analysis or reviewing the analysis of someone else.

Does all this mean that analysts are born and not trained? Maybe, to some degree.


Ready, Fire, Aim?

July 16, 2012

In my last post, “Start Right or Don’t Start At All”, I strongly suggested that, before you start researching your own CI projects, you stop and develop a plan first.  A recent article, “Contemplation and conversation: Subtle influences on moral decision making”, and a new book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, both discussed by The Economist and one by, support that advice for additional, compelling reasons.

“Contemplation” concludes that experiments show that slowing down will make us act more ethically.  OK. So, assuming that is correct, what does that mean for CI? It means that thinking through your needs and your best approach before you start will minimize the chances that you will cross (or be forced to cross) ethical lines. Not a bad payback for doing it right in the first place.

Wait deals with the benefits of active (that is good) procrastination. The author, Professor Partnoy, offers the supported view is that snap decisions are inherently poor. He advocates determining the “longest amount of time” you can take before doing something (like drawing a conclusion from your research) and then to “delay the response or decision until the very last possible moment. If it is a year, wait 364 days. If it’s an hour, wait 59 minutes.”

For a CI project, this translates into (a) beginning your research after you have finished all of the planning for it, and (b) then, drawing a conclusion only when you absolutely have to.

So instead of “I want it all, and I want it now” (Queen, 1989), think “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” ( Johnny Mercer, 1940 and Alexander Pope, 1709).