Structured Analytic Techniques for Better Strategy


Good strategy is elusive. Some people can read The Art of War every day and never generate a single good strategy, while others can outthink Sun Tzu without ever opening a book. Reading can help, and so can training, but the effect is limited when an exploitable mindset prevails. Americans, for example, tend to emphasize technology and forget that every gadget comes with at least one new liability, usually several.
      What we really need is a common base of flexible but structured thinking techniques—techniques that help us focus and collaborate while strengthening our ability to outthink, not just “out-tech,” our opponents. To date, a variety of authors have attempted to collect and share such techniques, but no single source has captured a critical mass of techniques or presented them in a way that makes them immediately useful.
      This has changed with Richards Heuer and Randolph Pherson’s new book, Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis. I was fortunate to be able to review the chapter on red teaming analysis several months ago and have eagerly awaited the completed book. I received it today, and I can already tell it was worth the wait.
      As I sit down with the book in the next few weeks, I don’t expect to agree with every technique, nor do I expect to find all of them equally useful. That said, I do expect to digest every one of them. I also fully expect to use the book as a text in my systems analysis courses.
      Interestingly, the book is spiral bound so it will open flat on your desk. Major sections are tabbed, and each entry follows the same format. It’s clearly meant to be a working book.
      It’s probably a wish too far, but in a perfect world the book would have come with a CD of templates and tools. Of course, you’d need a hard drive full of separate and often expensive tools to implement every technique. As it is, I’ll continue to use my favorite tools, supplement them with Visio, and look forward to the time when I can explore strategies in a comprehensive, collaborative tool.
      A community that produces authors like Heuer and Pherson has something going for it. Let’s hope it’s enough, and let’s hope we take advantage of it by not just situating the book prominently on our desks but by wearing out our copies before the next crisis hits.


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