Tuesday, August 7, 2018

6 Things To Think About While Discussing Requirements With A Decisionmaker (Part 2)

"And what kind of intelligence would the gentleman prefer today?"
How can I use the limited amount of time my decisionmakers have to discuss their intelligence requirements to get the maximum return on that investment?  Earlier this summer, I began a series on this precise theme.

I have already written about how to prepare for an intelligence requirements meeting and about how to deal with a virtual intelligence requirements environment.  Today, I am writing part two of a six part series discussing what intel professionals need to think about when they are actually in the meeting, talking to a decisionmaker about his or her requirements.

2.  What kind of intelligence is the DM looking for?

There are two broad (and informal) categories of intelligence - descriptive and estimative.  Descriptive intelligence is about explaining something that is relevant to the decision at hand.  Estimative intelligence is about what that "something" is likely to do next.  It is the difference between "Who is the president of Burkina Faso now?" and "Who is the next president of Burkina Faso likely to be?"

Estimative intelligence is obviously more valuable than descriptive intelligence.  Estimative intelligence allows the DM and his or her operational staff to plan for the future, to be proactive instead of reactive.  Surprisingly, though, DMs often forget to ask for estimates regarding issues they think will be relevant to their decisions.  It is worth the intelligence professionals time, therefore, to look for places where an estimate might be useful and suggest it as an additional requirement.

While I am never one to look for more work, the truth is that descriptive intelligence is becoming easier and easier to find.  The real value in having dedicated intel staff is in that staff's ability to make estimates.  If all you do is what computers do well (IE describe) then you run the risk of being downsized or eliminated the next time there is a budget crunch.

Tomorrow:  #3 What are the DM's assumptions?


Antonio said...

I follow your blog and respect your judgement and experience a lot. However, today is one of those rare days when I have to disagree with what you have written: "While I am never one to look for more work, the truth is that descriptive intelligence is becoming easier and easier to find." Earlier, you describe "descriptive intelligence" as "about explaining something that is relevant to the decision at hand." Your example seems to suggests that this is about gathering facts. While it's true that more and more 'factual' information is available to anyone than ever, I'd say that the process is still not simple, especially in an adversarial environment. Some facts may remain hidden, some alledged facts may be planted falsehoods, some may be misleading (especially without contexts). If getting the facts were so easy, we would not have a 'fake news' problem -and journalists would be mostly out of work. And I haven't even started about *interpreting* facts, where in a complex situation what the fact actually means may have to be carefully decided. Am I being paranoid or is descriptive intel not really as smooth as you make it sound? Or maybe I misunderstood you, and you were saying that compared to estimative intelligence, the descriptive part is easier?

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Antonio, sorry for the slow response (I missed your comment). I agree with you about the nature of facts and the difficulty of extracting the signal from the noise. It is far more difficult than most people assume and the easy availability of all sorts of information these days is only exacerbating the issue. That is, the fact that information is easier to get has created the perception that the truth is easier to find as well. Even when you control for this, though, it pales in comparison to the value of good estimative intelligence. Having access to reliable information is a precondition for any sort of estimate - and it is the estimate that allows the DM to plan. So, yes, I probably could have said it better but I was saying that estimative is more difficult than descriptive. I was also saying that DMs often (and somewhat surprisingly) forget to ask for it, so I recommend that you remind them that estimates are something else we can provide.