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No new data?

People sometimes hire me to gather intelligence. That’s what spies do, so that’s what clients want me to do for them, too. At least, that’s what they think they want me to do.

They ask me to get this. Or get that. If I can get it ethically and appropriately, I do it. No big deal.

But often, I don’t. That’s because before I go out and get what people think they need, I ask some questions.

If you’ve read A Spy’s Guide to Thinking, you know I use a simple diagram to describe intelligence-gathering. It’s based on Boyd’s OODA Loop. It’s: Data feeds into Analysis, which feeds into a Decision, which leads to Action.

Intelligence is the first two: Data and Analysis. We gather the data, then we feed it into an analytic process. An analytic process is a filtering process that helps us get what we need to make a good decision.

But we don’t start with Data. No one does. Like scientists start with a hypothesis, we start with a decision. Which means we ask the decision-makers what decisions they’re contemplating. And then, if we need to refine those decisions further, we ask them which actions are possible for them to take.

Here’s the diagram from the book:

What happens when we start with the decision-makers, get the questions they’re asking and then go look for data?

We usually learn one of the following things:

  1. We already have the data we need; or

  2. The data we want won’t really affect our decision; or

  3. The data we want won’t really affect the action we take; or

  4. The cost of getting that new data greatly exceeds its impact on our decision and action.

It’s rare that we need to collect something new. It’s rare that we need to do new intelligence-gathering.

Most people already have what they need to make good decisions. They just haven’t thought about it in a structured way.

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