Bond in the Boardroom: How Thinking Like an Intelligence Analyst Can Enhance Your Bottom Line
Thursday, May 4th, 2017
Forget all the movies. Working for the CIA or NSA is not all about blowing things up and generally committing mayhem (James Bond may actually be the world’s worst spy)—it’s about helping your bosses gain decision advantage. As the CIA puts it in their publication, A Consumer’s Guide to Intelligence, “Reduced to its simplest terms, intelligence is knowledge and foreknowledge of the world around us—the prelude to decision and action by US policymakers.”
Who wouldn’t want to have more knowledge of the business environment than the competition? Over the years, the U.S. intelligence community has developed methods to gain decision advantage over potential adversaries that can be equally applied in the business world. We discuss two of them below.
Red Teaming the Room
Imagine showing up at your next client presentation already knowing what they’re going to ask. That’s the essence of red teaming, or placing yourself in the shoes of another and making decisions as they would to enhance your own effectiveness.
In the intelligence community, entire units routinely take on the role of terrorists (red teams) and plan devastating attacks. If you can think and plan like a terrorist, you can also develop strategies to counter their actions.
In the business world, this means putting yourself in the shoes of a client to better understand their needs and desires. The first step is to assign a red team from your own company to role-play the client—have them do their homework to ascertain the client’s strengths, weaknesses and goals. Then conduct a mock presentation. Have the red team play it out by asking difficult and challenging questions. If things get confrontational, all the better. This accomplishes two major goals—the red team will develop a better understanding and empathy for the client and his/her needs. In addition, your presenters (blue team) will be faced with hard and realistic questions which will enable them to craft answers and strategies that better serve the client… before the real briefing begins.
The Devil’s Advocate
Who doesn’t hate a yes-man? Unfortunately, they are all too common in the business world. For a whole host of reasons, people don’t like to publically disagree with their bosses or peers. This has lead to many foreign policy disasters—perhaps the best known is the ill-fated 1961 invasion of Cuba that became known as the Bay of Pigs debacle. Despite the fact that several advisers to the Kennedy administration had serious reservations about the invasion plan, none spoke out. The president, not surprisingly, believed everyone supported his very poorly conceived idea when, in fact, many did not.
So how do you solicit contrary information, especially about a plan the boss seemingly loves? After all, careers can be made or broken at the whim of the CEO. Many years ago, the intelligence community recognized the benefit of considering all sides of an issue. The Defense Intelligence Agency created a formal position called “devil’s advocate”—someone whose job it was to read every piece of intelligence and formulate a contrary position. This led to better analysis. When challenged, people have to either modify or defend their positions. At the very least, it leads to greater introspection, which generally produces a better product.
While most companies don’t have the luxury of hiring a full time devil’s advocate, they still can benefit from the concept. At your next meeting, appoint someone as a temporary devil’s advocate. It will be this person’s responsibility to shoot holes in every idea that’s presented. Because it’s an appointed position, the employee is safe. In fact, make it known that the employee will be judged on the quality of his or her critique—the more insightful, the better.
Of course, the boss has to buy off on this. Wise leaders understand that it’s in their own interest to have someone willing to tell the emperor when he/she’s not wearing clothes.
And now to James Bond. A few years ago, some friends and I wrote why Bond was the world’s worst spy. Here’s what we said:
James Bond is a fictional spy created by Ian Fleming, who once worked for British Intelligence. Bond movies are wildly entertaining, with numerous action sequences and intense romances. However, at a conference attended by your authors, a prominent figure from an American intelligence agency once described why he may be the world's worst spy:
- Everyone knows who he is—the phrase "Bond, James Bond" brings instant recognition. In reality, spies need to keep their identities confidential.
- He causes a scene everywhere he goes—from car chases to shooting on the run, Bond wreaks havoc wherever he is. Real spies must remain discrete.
- He has questionable and frequent romantic relationships, often with agents from the other side—in reality, this can lead to compromising situations and blackmail.
- He never files reports—intelligence agencies run on information; Bond seems to do all his talking with his fists.
Dr. Carl Jensen, professor and director of the Intelligence and Security Studies program at The Citadel, coauthored the book “Introduction to Intelligence Studies”. He served in the FBI as a supervisory special agent in the Behavior Science Unit, a field agent, and a forensic examiner/cryptanalyst in the FBI Laboratory for 22 years. He is a 1978 graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy and served in the Navy from 1978 until 1983. The Citadel offers a Master of Arts degree in Intelligence and Security Studies that has great applicability to the business world.