Tag Archives: Intelligence Analysis

Business and Intelligence Techniques: the Role of Competing Hypotheses

I get a lot of requests to discuss further the application of intelligence analysis to business, so today I’ll discuss the uses and limitations of a common analytic technique.

One tool that I teach at IE is the Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH).  ACH is an analytic tool originally developed by Richards J. Heuer at the CIA, but it is remarkably useful in business as well.  ACH uses a deceptively simple framework to use ideas from the scientific method, cognitive psychology and decision analysis to overcome a common but immensely important bias:  the fact that we tend to perceive what we expect to perceive rather than what actually exists.  To illustrate this tendency, read the words in the three triangles below:

If you’re like most people, the phrases “written” in the triangles are familiar.  To find out what’s actually written in each triangle, refer to the bottom of this entry (or try the old proof-readers trick of reading them backwards).

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“Facts” Everybody Knows – Statistical Cautions about the BRICs (in honor of Igor Birman)

In business and finance, statistics and quantitative comparisons are daily companions.  Sometimes, however, key statistics can become too familiar, and reify, i.e. harden into “facts” that everybody knows.  In so doing, they play a large part in strategic surprises.

In the late 1980s, for example, the US Intelligence Community “knew” that Soviet GDP was $2.5 trillion, i.e. about 52 percent of the US GDP of $4.8 trillion.  How?  Their computer models told them so.  These models relied upon – among other things – assumptions about ruble-dollar Purchasing Power Parity (PPP).

Western academic Sovietologists also “knew” the USSR’s economy was about $2.5 trillion.  How?  Mostly, they relied on an authoritative source:  the CIA.

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How to Think like an Intelligence Analyst

To follow up on Philippe’s post about Thinking in Time:  at IE I teach a course called “Geopolitics” to Masters in Advanced Finance students, and “The Multinational Firm and Geostrategy” to Masters in Management students.  Students in those classes sometimes ask me to recommend books to help them “think like an intelligence analyst” and apply intelligence methods to analyzing business decisions.

I provide extensive bibliographies as part of my course syllabi, but often students want me to boil my recommendations down to a few key texts.  Call it a “getting started in intelligence for businesspeople” reading list.

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