Friday, April 24, 2009

Teaching Intel At Los Alamos (Coolest Thing I Have Done In The Last Couple Of Months...)

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to run a couple of workshops on intelligence theory and intelligence communiciations at Los Alamos National Laboratory with my colleague Linda Bremmer. Beyond the details of the workshop (which you can read here online), I have to say it was one of the most interesting and unique opportunties that Mercyhurst has offered me.

We do a surprisingly large amount of off-site training for a variety of institutions and agencies. Our professors have taught as far away as Sri Lanka. Still, there are a number of reasons why Los Alamos was special.

First, look at the cool stuff they did just last year:

Second, the environment there is absolutely unique. You are 7500 feet straight up on the top of a desert plateau. If you are not accumstomed to that altitude, it can sneak up on you. We were told that they had seen instructors (presumably ones that talked too fast...) actually faint in the middle of a presentation. That story might be a little bit of an exaggeration to scare the low country folks but you could seriously feel the impact of the altitude every time you took the stairs. Beyond that, they also have 340 days of sun in one of the bluest skies I have ever seen. If all that isn't "unique enough" for you, you are also out in the desert with all the beauty and danger that this kind of environment implies.

In the third place, it was enormously challenging -- and rewarding. Most professionals have taught an "intelligence for dummies" class at one point or another, usually to a group of only modestly interested beginners. Imagine an "intelligence for rocket scientists, nuclear physicists and engineers" class! It was an extraordinary teaching experience. As students, they were engaged from the first minute and very, very quick; even when the material was wholly unfamiliar.

Finally, it was one of the most hospitible groups of people I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The administrative and technical support was first rate and the sponsors of the workshop truly went out of their way to make sure we were both comfortable and had the tools we needed to conduct the workshops. Despite a flight that required four (!) layovers, it was one of the easiest and most rewarding trips I have been on.


Jeffrey said...

Wow, that sounds like it was an awesome experience, Kris.

Did you have to modify your presentation to accomodate your the unique nature of your audience at all?

Kristan J. Wheaton said...


Not with regards to the intel theory stuff. I was able to take a good bit of other stuff for granted, though. They all knew how the government did (and didn't) work, for example, so there was no need to spend any time on that.

Their big questions had to do with the kinds of topics we have been researching here for the last several years (ambiguity in analysis, communicating uncertainty and confidence, etc) so I was pretty well prepared for that.