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  • Writer's picturePaul

I Know Nothing Except The Fact Of My Ignorance!


Video Length: 2:23 min


Ms. Nado Bakos, a CIA analyst and a key targeting officer in the Agency’s hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the self-styled leader in Iraq of the Islamic militant group al-Qaeda,discusses how to use intelligence to discover hidden truths and to disqualify presumed facts.


One of the most important training programs I went through while serving with the U.S. Intelligence Community was a module of instruction focused on the “Intelligence Analysis.” The classroom instruction was fast paced and the practical exercises were difficult and intense. The training was never intended to make the class of 26 Operations Case Officers into analysts, but to make use understand the questions the analytical teams back in Washington DC were asking and why. The training focused on how we as individuals looked at things, our thought process and how it worked, our perceptions, our biases and the need to keep an open mind to any information we encountered. The process was broken down into a simple formula “Information + Evaluation = Data & Data + Analysis = Intelligence.” The last thing our chief instructor said as we received our training certificates was “People remember the words of Socrates who said “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.”

Design, Discipline, & Decision

While working for an investment firm in New York City shortly after retiring, I found myself falling back on the psychology of analysis training I had had two decades ago. I found that the brilliant team I was fortunate enough to lead were very gifted in the business analysis models of SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities & Threats) and VRIO (Value, Rarity, Imitability & Organization) when it came to analyzing the market and out competition. However, those analytical tools as they related to our business assessments were off time and time again as we bid contracts.

Upon review, I was looking at my team through a one-dimensional lens, that of business and not of war, covert action or intelligence collection. The leverage we had was not being used. My team were passive recipients of information, taking everything at simple face value. They were not active learners that rigorously questioned their ideas or their assumptions. They were not seeking to determine if the ideas, arguments, and findings represented the entire picture. I had to teach my team to rethink each bit of information and to reexamine their cognitive process, their preconceived ideas and their environmental prejudices. I encouraged them to give me alternative outcomes using the information they had and to use their proven assessment skills to identify and solve problems systematically rather than by historical reference, simple intuition or a gut feeling. We began to win bids, we came to dominate a niche market controlled by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The only thing we did differently was to examine things from various angles so as to arrive at the best possible solution to whatever contract we were bidding. The skills needed to think clearly were observation, assessment, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem-solving, and lastly our decision-making process. We needed to:

1. Think about the contract as a topic or issue in an objective and critical way.

2. Identify different arguments about the solution process and how to address it.

3. Evaluate different points of view to determine how strong or valid it our solutions would be in the contract selection process.

4. Identify any weaknesses or negative points as they related to our solutions and the Port Authority’s problems that might be presented in a counter argument.

5. Note what implications might be behind a Port Authority statement or argument.

6. Be prepared to present structured reasoning and our Statement of Qualification (SOQ) to support our counterpoints regarding the bid or contract.

As we went through the process on each new contract, I kept coming back to that class on the analysis and the psychology behind it. The process is to achieve the best possible outcome in any situation by gathering and evaluating information from as many different sources as possible. It requires a clear, often uncomfortable, assessment of personal strengths, weaknesses and preferences which can impact decisions that need to be made. Just as a police detective looks at a crime scene or an intelligence officer targets a terrorist group, business professionals can use the psychology of analysis to:

1. Understand the links between ideas.

2. Determine the importance or relevance of arguments and ideas.

3. Recognize the issues, process the information and construct sound counterpoints

4. Identify and appraise the clients presumed arguments.

4. Identify inconsistencies and errors in their arguments and our reasoning.

5. Approach problems in a consistent and systematic way.

6. Most importantly, turn ever answer inside out and think about the assumptions,

7. What are the beliefs, and values of the client, your competitors and your analysis

8. Reflect on your solutions and envision on alternative outcomes.

There are all kinds of issues that arise from an incomplete analysis of a project. However, the value of sound reasoning, seasoned with understanding of the project, the solutions sought, the clients preserved view and the alternative answers to resolving the problem are priceless. As Mark Twain said “It is wiser to find out than to suppose.”

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