A Spy's Guide to Thinkingby Published 31 May 2015
|A Spy's Guide to Thinking.pdf|
"Head wounds bleed. All those vessels going to the brain. Carrying nutrients so you can think. Which I hadn’t . . . I was stunned. But I hadn’t lost yet. I still had the phone. And two options."
There are a select few people who get things done. Spies are first among them.
In a 45 minute read, a former spy introduces two simple tools for thinking. The first describes how we think. The second helps us think ahead. They are the essential tools for getting things done.
The tools are applied to an incident in a subway car in Europe where a spy faces a new enemy. Then, they're reapplied to Saddam Hussein's stockpiling (or not) of weapons of mass destruction.
John Braddock was a case officer at the CIA. He developed, recruited and handled sources on weapons proliferation, counter-terrorism and political-military issues. A former university research fellow, he is now a strategy consultant. He helps people and organizations think more effectively about their strategy, their customers and the competition.
"A Spy's Guide to Thinking" Reviews
There's a moderately interesting story in here, about how the author handles a potentially violent encounter on a subway. He wants to show us how he uses a particular type of thinking to make his decisions during the encounter.
And then he spends a whole chapter of an already short book relitigating the goddamn bogus WMD claims that were used to justify the Iraq war. (Spoiler alert: It wasn't the CIA's fault! No! Really! USA! USA!)
This ... whatever this is because it isn't a book ... could be an interesting column in a magazine that you'd read on an airplane, but if you expect to actually learn anything, don't waste your time.
Either it's me or it's too simplistic. Whatever... Lot's of obvious things, little depth.
Intelligence agencies start with the decision. Like scientists start with the hypothesis. (c) It's called cherry-picking.
Thinking is cheap. Action is expensive. (c)
The Data-Analysis-Decision-Action chain helps us focus on where we might have holes in our thinking. (c)
The best way to win a zero-sum game is to be good at positive-sum games. (c)
Spy's Guide to thinking offers a framework for effective thinking which is based on experiences of a field spy "John Braddock". I guess this is the guy who convinced white house of Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, hence igniting the war.
The book is organized in four concise chapters:
I. How to think
II. What to think about
III. How others think
IV. How to think about others
How to think
Author teaches the structure of effective thinking which is the foundation of decision making from small levels as individuals to gigantic ones as goverments. He argues that thinking in its simplest form is as follows:
Data > Analysis > Decision > Action
If thinking doesn't end with action, it's useless. Taking action is why we thinking and without it, thinking is useless.
We collect data, analyze through them, come up with decisions and we take action. Based on the feedback we get from the taken action, we get new data to analyze and further refine our decisions. This is the big picture.
What to think about
Data + analysis is what we call intelligence, the info given to the government, cabinet or generals to make the decisions to be acted upon by diplomats, soldiers or spies.
Good analysis is the combination of old and new data which in turn leads to a good decision.
Thinking through the DADA model is very much similar to the scientific method:
The scientific method says: Develop a hypothesis, test it and observe the results. With results in hand, decide whether your hypothesis was correct.
The interesting thing is that scientists do not start with data collection, rather, the spark off from hypothesis. So to answer "what to think about" we must first come up with decisions we need to make. So for instance:
The intelligence agency is told an issue, the options and questions regarding the issue. Based on those, the analysts come up with what they call "requirements" which are questions again.
In essence, you must have a decision to make to begin with, hence, the thinking loop I mentioned above begins with decision and is like this:
Intelligence agencies start with the decision. Like scientists start with hypothesis. That's how we know what we're looking for.
How others think
When dealing with other parties, the first question should always be, "What kind of game do they think we're playing?"
There are three kinds of games:
A. Zero-sum game: These are conflict games and happen when one player can only gain what the other player gives up.
B. Positive-sum game These are cooperative games and continue as long as both sides are gaining, or expect to. Like any good marriage or alliance or business partnership, benefits both sides is what keeps it together. When you add up the gains, the result is positive.
C. Negative-sum games: These games are rare, wars of attrition, Verdun, or labor strike. Both sides are losing while each side hopes it's losing less than the other. As soon as one side figures it's losing too much, the negative-sum game is over.
Understanding these three types of games is a shortcut to good thinking. it helps us understand the people we're working with or against. Best of all, the games shortcut gets us closer to Holy Grail of thinking: predicting what others will do next. The first step to winning a zero-sum game is to know it's coming. It's why spies work in peacetime, to give alert when peace is about to become war.
When involved in a zero-sum game, winning isn't just about being good at conflict. In fact, being good at conflict isn't the best way to win. The best way to win a zero-sum game is to be good at positive-sum games.
How to think about others
In this chapter the author elaborates a bit on Iraq war's and the whole thing about international community suspecting Iraq being in possession of Weapons of Mass Distruction (WMD). As it turns out, Saddam has been facing two major issues, internal rivals, and the main external one (IRAN). Saddam Wanted Iran to think he had WMD in order to deter attacks while he didn't want anyone inside Iraq to actually possess WMD. Because whoever had the WMD inside Iraq could use it to threaten the Saddam's grip on power.
So he created a perception of having massive stockpiles of WMD without actually having much.
The bottom line
Two major pieces of knowledge I grasped from the book is first, the thinking chain as I described above (Data > Analysis > Decision > Action). And the second one is to always start with a question regarding the issue at hand. Simple, yet valuable.
All in all, this short book if consumed well has merits and due to its potential and conciseness I would definitely recommend it.
Good thinking means good decisions, good actions, good results, hopefully, but not always. We live in a fog of uncertainty. Good thinking removes some of the fog, Never all of it.
Lacks depth, volume
Lessons and insights are shallow. Light content. Written as a stream of consciousness. Topic is intriguing however content is poor. Book is more of a chapter than it is a book
Interesting point of view. The thing I most took from this book is, that some people overthink things. Not a bad thing, but if you're not trained to think fast, you'll end up being a passive observer in most situations, if you try to adapt this approach.