Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What A Difference Data Makes! (ENTINT)

The Workingman's Cake - Launching OCT 11 on Kickstarter.com!
Entrepreneurs typically have as much, if not more, need for intelligence as large corporations.  Much of what new companies deal with is outside of their control while still being highly relevant to their eventual success or failure.

While the need for intel is there, the means for good intel often is not.  Few intel firms cater to the needs of the very small start-up and it is often up to the entrepreneur to come up with answers about those "critical to my success or failure but outside my control" kinds of issues.

We recently experienced exactly this kind of question in a project I am working on for Mercyhurst's Quickstarter program.  Kathy Fling owns a small baking company called Delectabites and she was looking to find a flagship product that she can ship nationally.

After many months of research, experimentation and product testing (always the best part when working with a baker!), she settled on a square cake with the icing injected into the middle in 9 separate spots (9, count 'em! 9!).  You get icing in every bite and it is easy to ship.

We taste tested it in offices, cafes, on the shop floor and in small businesses around Erie.  We gave these cakes to road workers and sheet metal workers and nurses.  Kathy is an amazing (and fully licensed) home baker.  Everybody who tried this cake, loved it.  We knew we were on to something.

But what to call it?

We went over a million different options.  We wanted to send a signal that this was not your average piece of cake, that it was cake for real people who had real things to do with all the flavor of something lovingly made at home without any of the frills - a cake for the working man (or woman!).

Our first name, then, was "The Workingman's Cupcake".  It was like a cupcake with cake and icing but better.  You could pack it in a briefcase or express ship it across country.  You got the joy of eating a homemade cupcake without the mess, the bother or the expense.  It was revolutionary!

Then the feedback started rolling in.  It wasn't "really" a cupcake.  Maybe people wouldn't think the name was nearly as clever as we thought it was.  We (= Kathy, me and the Project Manager, McKenna Schneider) needed to test this and, with our launch date (11 OCT) on Kickstarter quickly approaching, we needed to test it fast.

Fortunately, Google Forms provides exactly this kind of capability.  Free with a Google account, it is a perfect way to do some quick comparison tests.  We came up with what we thought were the best alternatives to The Workingman's Cupcake and with a few clicks, we had a survey.  With a few more, we had sent it out to our various networks.  161 responses (about 48 hours) later, we had our answer - The Workingman's Cake in a landslide  (Click on the image to the left to see the full results).

I know that there are more complex ways to dissect this data.  I know that by moving so quickly, I may have missed some opportunities to extract more meaning from the data I did get. I am a big believer, however, in Douglas Hubbard's approach to data - any data is better than no data and you often need a lot less data than you think to substantially reduce uncertainty.  While surveys certainly aren't anything new, it is interesting to see that this approach can work and work well for entrepreneurs.

Oh, and in case you are interested in where this story is going to go next, you can follow along here!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Exactly What Happens When You Combine PSYOPS and IPB...

From the very excellent Wondermark by David Malki!!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Pokemon Go Tips For Intelligence Professionals

Damn things are all over the office now!
There is no way any reader of this blog has not heard of Pokemon Go at this point.  This smart phone based augmented reality game gained more users than Twitter in less than a week. 

There has been a lot of concern in the press and elsewhere about both privacy and security. Obviously, the best way to stay secure is to simply not to play.  This may be a mistake.  As the first mainstream augmented reality application, Pokemon Go provides a real insight into what the technology does and doesn't do.  

Just as the auction house in World of Warcraft influenced online currencies such as bitcoin, the world of Pokemon Go will inevitably shape augmented reality applications in the future.  Not playing is similar to refusing to travel to another country simply out of security concerns - it might be warranted but don't expect your analysis of a country to be very good if you have never been there.

Even if you have no interest in playing, others you know will want to.  Under these circumstances, it seems logical to think about what are the best practices for maintaining both personal safety and cyber security.

One of my contacts (Thanks!) within the intel community put together a tip sheet for friends and family and, having read it, it sounds like good advice for anyone who wants to play Pokemon Go with a reasonable level of safety and privacy.  Remember, it is a tip sheet and is designed to be helpful, not comprehensive.  If it is not covered here, just remember D2S2 – Don’t Do Stupid Stuff. 

  • Only download the official version of the Pokemon GO application from the developer (Niantic), from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. 
  • GPS and a data connection (either WiFI or cellular (30/4G) data) arc required in order to play. Avoid playing in any areas where you don't want to be geo-tagged. 
  • Don't use your personal Gmail account to log in, as this not only links your personal information with your Pokemon GO activity (which includes GPS data), it could also expose your Google credentials to the app owner. Although security holes have been patched, previous versions of the app required extensive permissions to your Google account: make sure your app is up to date. Either create a Pokemon Trainers Club account or create a "throw-away" Gmail account to use specifically for this purpose. 
  • Use a trainer name (screen name) that is not already associated with you through other sources (other online games, online communities, etc.) and does not contain any personal information (part of your real name, birthday, etc.). Currently you cannot view other players or information about other players through the interface, except the trainer name and Pokemon name at gyms or the trainer name who places lures at Pokestops. However, this feature may be added in the future. 
  • Be mindful of your surroundings when using this augmented reality (AR) mobile game, especially when taking pictures of Pokemon during the capture process. Note what's in the foreground and background, including reflective surfaces and information revealing identity and or location (street signs, vehicle license plates, Government buildings, etc.). Disabling AR makes Pokemon easier to catch! The location where you take a picture of a Pokemon is also likely embedded in the picture's metadata. 
  • When physically visiting Pokestops and gyms, maintain awareness of your surroundings. Travel with a buddy or remain in your vehicle with the doors locked.  It is not necessary to physically enter the real-world establishment where a Pokestop or gym is located, you may be able to interact with the Pokestop/gym from the curb or even across the street. 
  • For the safety of yourself and others, do not attempt to catch Pokemon or interact with Pokestops or gyms while driving. Pull off the road if it is safe to do so, or revisit the area while someone else is driving.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

How To Make Decisions

A reporter recently sent out an open call for input for an article he was writing about how to make good financial decisions.  Since I don't know if he will use any of what I said in his article and since I kind of liked my answer (even though I know it is not complete), I thought I would drop it here as well.

While most people think about espionage when they think about intelligence, an analyst is the person in an intelligence organization that makes decisions about what the other guy – the enemy, the criminal or the competitor – is likely to do.  These kinds of decisions are the hardest kind, with incomplete and potentially deceptive information and under conditions of extreme time-pressure and uncertainty.  

Financial decisions, particularly those made by individuals or small business owners are often very similar to these kinds of decisions (albeit with lower stakes).  As a result, virtually all of my research is also applicable to the kind of decision-making that is important when it comes to finances. 

I know you are going to get lots of advice but I have two items that I think are often overlooked.  The first is to separate what we call intelligence questions from operational questions.  

An intelligence question is a question about something that is important to your success or failure but is outside your control.  An operational questions is about something that is important to your success or failure but is under your control.  You analyze these two kinds of questions differently. 

Things that are under your control are much easier to analyze.  You usually know the data or you know where to get it.  You have some understanding of how much uncertainty exists in the data and how much of it you can weed out with statistics or whatever methods you use.  

With things that are out of your control – what your competitor is going to do or how the price of oil is likely to change or how low will the used car salesman go – you have to use a different set of tools and skills to understand these kinds of questions.  There is much more uncertainty here and it is much more difficult to narrow it.  In addition, there is likely some degree of deliberate deception going on – think about the used car salesman and how he or she is trying to sell the features and not the flaws of his 2006 Camry.

Second, the important skill to develop in answering these type of questions (particularly intelligence questions) is estimation.  Collecting facts is important, indeed essential, to answering questions but it is easy to fall victim to collecting facts simply for the sake of collecting them or to give into various cognitive biases which can easily make whatever time and money you spend collecting facts worthless.  

Since understanding what is likely to happen next is more important to planning than understanding what is happening now and since most of the future is more or less unknowable, the ability to make a good estimate is critical to good decision-making.  

Philip Tetlock has done fantastic research on this as has Douglas Hubbard.  I recommend both of them to your readers.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Umbrella Man: A Must-See Cautionary Tale About The Inherent Unlikelihood of Conspiracy

This is not to say that there are no conspiracies, but only to say that analysts should be cautious about leaping to that kind of conclusion at the outset. (If you can't see the video, click on this link to view on the NY Times page)