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Briefing Officials with Fixed Mindsets

The primary task of an analyst is to help policymakers and other decision makers make good decisions based on the best available information and most compelling logic. This task becomes much more challenging, however, when the recipient of the analysis bases his or her decisions on pre-established, firmly held, and often immutable precepts or world views. Such individuals are usually more interested in imposing their view on the world—or on the environment in which they operate—rather than trying to better understand it. They see data as useful ammunition they can cite to demonstrate the correctness of their approach or predispositions. Information that contradicts their view is usually quickly dismissed or simply ignored.

When asked to provide analytic support to such individuals, many of whom could be described as ideologues, what is an analyst to do? When dealing with individuals with strongly held views or even “the answer,” successful analysts take the time to develop multiple strategies for communicating their analytic message.

  1. When an official asks for specific information or intelligence to justify his or her position, frame the request in a broader context, providing the recipient with the data directly relevant to the request as well as any associated information and analysis that is contradictory. In essence, the task is to tee up both the pros and the cons in a comprehensive framework and then allow the decisionmaker to act based on a fully informed set of facts and analysis.
  2. Take the initiative to generate “stand-back” strategic looks at a situation, identifying key drivers and establishing an overarching framework for understanding the dynamics at play. Once such a framework is established, the tactical disagreements over how to interpret specific items of information become far easier to resolve.
  3. Rely more heavily on structured analytic techniques—such as Indicators, Argument Mapping, Deception Detection, Analysis of Competing Hypotheses, and Premortem Analysis—that can be used to demonstrate in a compelling way why the official’s analysis is flawed.

An analyst should never refrain from providing hard-hitting, objective, and well-supported analysis, even when the message is likely to be poorly received. Engaging a decision maker with an entrenched world view in a policy debate, however, is both inappropriate and almost always counterproductive. Often such conversations only make the client more obdurate and less likely to seek analytic support.

One of the worst mistakes an analyst can make is to self-censor. Self-censorship can take two forms. First is tweaking the analysis to make it more acceptable to the client in the hope of retaining access and sustaining a dialogue. Second, and more pernicious, is not sending the analysis to the client—or even not doing the analysis at all—because you believe it will be ignored or dismissed. Analysts should never discount the possibility that a combination of hard facts and sharply drawn analysis that competes with a decision maker’s views may over time allow the policymaker to “discover” on his or her own the merit of a contrary view.

To read more about the techniques described above, order your copy of Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis (2nd Ed.) here.

For more information and tickets for Introduction to Intelligence Analysis 101 visit the Spy Museum website
For more information and tickets for Introduction to Intelligence Analysis 101 visit the Spy Museum website

Introduction to Intelligence Analysis 101

January 25, 2017  7-9pm
International Spy Museum

Globalytica CEO Randy Pherson will lead this dynamic workshop where attendees learn how analysts employ Structured Analytic Techniques to avoid cognitive pitfalls and spur creative thinking. And ultimately find out whether your analysis would have helped to defuse a crisis or fuel a foreign policy disaster.

Pherson books and other publications are now available through
Please note Globalytica is a separate entity from Pherson.