Steve: Applying Intelligent Analysis to a high-stakes decision means slowing down the decision-making process long enough to a) objectively examine the supporting data and analytics, b) counter cognitive biases and organizational influence, and c) flush out expert opinions which would otherwise be unheard. A good analogy for this slow-down is the widely-used traffic management device of speedbumps. Speedbumps don’t change a car trip’s ultimate destination, or its driver, or the vehicle being driven. They merely reduce its speed through an apparently clear stretch of road where serious accidents have been known to occur or are liable to occur.
Jay: This analogy is a good one. When drivers come across a speedbump, not only do they have to slow down in order to avoid damage to their vehicle and discomfort to the passengers, they’re also prompted to look around for the non-obvious danger conditions which prompted installation of the speedbump, such as children playing, cyclists, or elderly residents. Each of the steps in Intelligent Analysis is like a speedbump and, if skipped or ignored, there can be serious consequences. Our method doesn’t affect how an organization reaches its decision. What it does do is stress-test the decision, by examining the data supporting the assumptions which have to hold true in order for the decision to result in success.
The January 6 US Capital Insurrection Select Committee: Asking the Right Question Drives Everything Else
Steve: Jay, do you think the January 6 Select Committee asked the right question?
Jay: Albert Einstein famously said “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask. For once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in 5 minutes.” Intelligent Analysis agrees with Einstein, that a well formulated question — in our book we call it the key intelligence question (KIQ) - will lay the groundwork for an objective, evidence based final report. Indeed, getting the question right should be the committee’s first, and arguably the most important, step.
Steve: That sounds easy.
Jay: It’s not at all. Why it matters so much, for example, is reflected in the difference between these two questions:
Steve: Those two questions sound quite alike.
Jay: Let me explain the difference. What’s wrong with the first one is that it answers the question in the question. It assumes that white supremacists were involved. From that point on, the focus of gathering information and inquiries will be to make that argument. Conversely, the second question is an open question which leaves room for a broadly-based assessment that begins with no preconceived outcome, regardless of personal opinion. An open question shifts the focus to the data and can blunt the impact of deeply held biases and opinions going in. A question that answers the question leads to cherry-picking reporting and leaving aside the possibility of more nuanced analysis.
Steve: So, if the committee had selected the second question, how could they have answered it?
Jay: The committee could have broken down the KIQ into what we call sub-questions, that must be answered in order to answer the broader KIQ. These can be wide-ranging and probe more deeply into different aspects of what happened, for example:
Steve: It seems like a structured process is needed, to avoid falling into the trap of formulating a KIQ that answers the question in the question.
Jay: Exactly. Our book includes an extensive chapter on formulating the “right question,” including a tool to help bring discipline to the process that would please Einstein.
If you’ve landed on this page, you’ll probably appreciate that Intelligent Analysis isn’t just A book for Jay and myself, it’s THE book that we’ve felt compelled to write ever since our collaboration began in 2016. The methodology at the heart of our book is so fundamental to the practice of sound decision-making that we’re constantly looking for opportunities to discuss, teach and practice it, as well as learn new applications and examine high-stakes decisions profiled in the news through our distinctive lens. We hope that your contributions to this discussion thread will help us do that, and simultaneously stimulate your own thinking and decision-making practices.