January 16, 2010

YOU KNOW WHAT'S REALLY GOOD AT ADJUSTING TO NEW INFORMATION?:

Think different, CIA: One of the biggest challenges for American intelligence? The way the brain works. (Robert Jervis, January 17, 2010, Boston Globe)

Our minds are, then, very good at forming a coherent picture, but less good at challenging it, questioning its assumptions, and coming up with alternative explanations. We are quick and often assured, but we are not self-correcting.

If there are flaws in the way that we think, then gathering more and more information isn’t a solution. What our intelligence system really needs is ways to avoid becoming trapped by the natural tendency to leap to conclusions and stick with them. This is true in other fields as well, which is why so much of professional and scientific training is designed to reduce the errors made by fallible people using weak information.

If individuals cannot avoid jumping to conclusions, there are ways for organizations to make up for this. They can systematically solicit the views of people with different perspectives, for example, or use devil’s advocates who will challenge established views.

To compensate for the tendency to rely on implicit understandings, intelligence analysts can be pushed to fully explain their reasoning, allowing others if not themselves to probe the assumptions that often play a large and unacknowledged role in their conclusions.

To better recognize the significance of absences, analysts can learn to think explicitly about what evidence should be appearing if their beliefs are correct. Gaps do not automatically mean that the established ideas are wrong, but they may signal a flaw in the prevailing thesis. Analysts can also be trained to consider, explicitly, what evidence could lead them to change their minds - not only alerting themselves to the possibility that the necessary information might be missing, but also providing an avenue for others to find evidence that might overturn established views.

Analysts should think more broadly and imaginatively about how adversaries are likely to respond, especially when it appears as though they have few alternatives and may be pushed into tactically surprising acts.


An open market.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 16, 2010 7:11 PM
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