Before reading this article, written for the SCIP magazine, you may be expecting many useful Military Intelligence tools and tips. But films and TV don’t offer an accurate reflection of military intelligence.
The reality may seem so much more mundane because the best tools used are your mind, your attitude and simple common sense.
That said, there are many skills involved in the Military Intelligence field which are relevant to life within the commercial world.
The Military teaches us that when the chips are down, instead of panicking, have a cup of tea.
Strap on your pack, pick up your rifle, give your teammates some banter and get on with it.
It may be a British thing, but if you are struggling to find information, have a laugh at yourself. Call yourself a name and get back to it.
Choose the right team with the right skills
The first military lesson is to ensure that you have the most suitable and highly trained team possible to match the situation being faced.
In the military, you would not have an SAS Troop tasked to feed five hundred people.
You wouldn’t give the job of breaking an embassy siege to the Women’s Royal Balloon Corps just because they were around the corner and had just finished another project.
It may sound funny, but this sort of mismatch is seen all too frequently in the corporate world.
Marketing assistants may be asked to look for competitor information or to help find someone to do competitive intelligence for them.
A quick google search may be undertaken with the assumption that this will give enough intelligence.
Quality intelligence, where the right questions are asked. Where the best tools are used, which goes deep and turns over every stone, is the result of many years of training and experience.
The 7 Ps
The military has a saying “Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents “Particularly” Poor Performance.”
This teaches us that real leadership is to ensure you have a well thought out plan which includes a “don’t give up” attitude.
Nevertheless, the military also teaches us that sometimes you have to change your plan when situations on the ground demand it.
If you are unable to do this, sticking rigidly to what you were told to do, then you will soon lose the respect of your team, or worse.
So, if you are trying to collect information and it is becoming impossible, change the way you are doing the research. Approach the mountain of information from a different angle.
Accuracy is a crucial demand within both Military and Competitive Intelligence. Especially if there is a good chance that what you create could be used in the field. In the military, intelligence has to be accurate, or it risks lives. Lives of people and their families you will never meet.
Walking hand in hand with accuracy is common sense and the ability to think quickly and calmly.
You can only do this if you are confident in your ability, are well trained and experienced. The same applies in the commercial world.
In the military, there is no better example of how important it is to get your message across. To people who need to decide what to and those who are tasked to do it.
Imagine the eve of a battle and the general stands up to address his men.
Armed with Intelligence and a plan, he outlines how he is going to defeat the enemy.
He realises that his troops and commanders will have difficulty in understanding the environment they will be fighting in.
But not to worry, he is prepared. And he reveals a fantastic PowerPoint presentation and a SWOT diagram! Teams have to get into breakout groups. They discuss the plan and isolate what the intelligence means to them.
As you can perhaps understand, this is going to worry the troops, who like to know which way to go and what to shoot at.
As discussed already, the military uses orders, Standard Operating Procedures and they are highly trained.
To keep it simple, the general delivers a succinct, inspiring message. A message everyone understands and replaces the SWOT diagram with something called a Map.
Map are simple to understand and, when in the battlefield, maps can be drawn in the sand with features recreated with pebbles and bits of stick. A 3D map called a model.
From these maps, commanders in the field build models of specific areas and buildings they need to focus on.
The military teaches us all to keep things simple, work as a team and prepare well. And, in order to ensure we know what to do and where to go, use a map.
In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explores how we process our intuition and instinct and suggests how we make split-second decisions and judgments. Both good and bad ones.
Gut feeling is an inbuilt reaction which allows us to accurately read a dangerous situation or a person who may wish us harm.
The book offers an appreciation of judgments based on less information rather than more. On expert intuition or instinct rather than the less seasoned novice judgments.
Gladwell suggests that intuitive or “snap” judgments are valuable. And that the more experienced you are on a subject, the more this will allow you to make accurate decisions.
We agree with Gladwell, that gut feeling can be an excellent tool for minor points, life and death experiences. (not too many of those at Octopus towers recently) To give a general direction of understanding of what’s going on, but gut feeling must be backed up by significant verifiable information.
Gladwell introduces the concept of “thin-slicing”. That’s your unconscious mind’s ability to isolate patterns and meaning within the most fleeting “slices” of experience and impressions.
He gives an example of the ability of one psychologist to predict, with 95% accuracy, if a couple would still be together in fifteen years’ time. According to Gladwell, this and other examples, show how experts can take small samples and make fantastic, accurate predictions.
However, we need to take into account our environment when using gut feeling, as gut feeling can change depending on where you are and how threatened or content you feel. Within Intelligence, if you are up against a deadline, then validated gut feeling is more achievable if you are relaxed, with all the time in the world.
Not as good as we think
Our gut feeling is not as perfect as we might think. Even though, It can be a great tool to deploy when we are trying to analyse what’s going on with a competitor or a market. However, it is not the magic bullet, and we must be aware that our gut feel is exceptionally open to wishful thinking and bias, and this must be taken into account.
The more market and life experience you have, the more this could prevent you using your gut reaction and picking up on those intangible warning signs if your industry changes or new competitors come along.
And yes, your industry can and almost certainly will change; it’s up to you to realise this. That industry experience and know-how should not let you lose sight of how potentially useful your gut feeling could be.
We can take gut feeling into account, as one part of a whole repertoire of tools, but the future direction of your business in an ever-changing market needs considered detailed analysis.
So, whilst we shouldn’t ignore our intuition, we should not make critical business decisions with it either.