As a Minnesota native, I have endured the frustrations of being a Vikings fan, especially when they lose to conference rival Green Bay. My dislike of the Packers isn’t rational, which makes objective analysis difficult.
No matter how the Vikings and Packers stack up, I can’t utter the following words: the Packers will win. Part of me believes that merely saying the words will contribute to a Vikings loss. I seek comfort in datapoints that support my vision of a Vikings victory.
Developing a spy mindset means avoiding this thought process and mastering the five steps of the Intelligence Cycle:
1. Planning & Direction
4. Analysis & Production
Even if you master the first three steps, the Intelligence Cycle will fail, possibly net-negative, if your analysis falls short during step four. Your ability to analyze information is important, but equally important is your approach to analysis.
The most dangerous approach is magical thinking, which means allowing your hopes and biases to trump causal relations, like making a voodoo doll of the Packers. If I make a big bet on the Vikings with the hope of increasing their odds of winning, that’s magical thinking. If that sounds crazy, consider the claim that we can print money to fight inflation. Magical thinking abounds.
A better approach is practical reason, which means the general human capacity for resolving, through reflection, the question of what one is to do. For example, if the head coach of the Vikings honestly assesses that all the current indicators don’t point to victory, he can modify his words and actions before game day. As they say, on any given Sunday.
Given the problem-solving nature of practical reason, you’ll use it during step one of the Intelligence Cycle to define your collection gaps and during step four to analyze the resulting collection, seeking only true information (good and bad) that helps you move you closer to your vision of success.
Some truths are fixed. Other truths have potential to change. Your job is to know the difference. For example, if I transport ice cream in the hot sun with no freezer, it will melt. Magical thinking won’t fix this and might prevent me from seeing a solution. However, if the truck has a freezer but needs repairs, I can give the driver the right tools to keep the ice cream frozen during the trip.
Developing a spy mindset means cultivating your practical reason to understand the challenges you face and to develop a collection plan to answer the questions that will help you make decisions with the right degree of confidence.
The easiest analysis is for simple causality. For example, if your ice cream analysis reveals that you need trucks that can sustain at least 0 degrees Fahrenheit during a trip from San Diego to Phoenix, allowing for traffic, then you can identify the trucks that meet these requirements. Easy day. This doesn’t mean the ice cream business will succeed, but at least it won’t fail for melted ice cream.
The more difficult analysis is for complex causality. These variables include leadership, training, equipment, hustle, grit, and so on. For example, your analysis of the Packers might reveal a viable way to defeat them but getting from point A to point B isn’t a linear formula. It’s a narrow path that requires all the tools of practical reason.
In a world of finite resources, developing a spy mindset means analyzing the risk-gain of each challenge and then either playing for the win or living to fight another day. If success is within reach but you don’t use enough resources, you might lose. Iif you use too many resources for easy wins or certain losses, you’ll drain future potential.
One of the biggest challenges of developing a spy mindset is having the courage to make unpopular decisions based on objective analysis while sustaining the emotional narrative of your organization. For example, you might bench the injured quarterback today, knowing that it will probably result in a loss (short-term). You might sell it as a temporary setback on the path to making the playoffs (medium-term). But the real reason might be keeping the quarterback healthy for the rest of his five-year contract (long-term).
I’m reminded of Top Gun: “Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash.”
Although objective analysis often moves in the direction of cold and logical decisions, the art and science of developing a spy mindset means keeping the journey filled with meaning and purpose – yes, even magic.