What makes a good intelligence analyst? Are there certain skills, qualities and attributes that can make you better primed for success in your chosen field? If so, how can we transform these personal traits into enduring habits that help us succeed in what we do?
Of course, the good news is that habits are not innate and we can train ourselves to develop the right ones!
We asked Monica Nixon, Corporate CI specialist and Principal Analyst at Nixon Intelligence Consulting Services (NICS) and Bob A. a retired US Navy Intelligence expert for their views.
Bob: “Let’s get a couple of things on the table first. Great analysts are not taught, they are nurtured. Great analysts are born with a talent that can be enhanced and brought to the front by good schooling in the areas of research and thought processes, but like all great musicians or painters, you either have it or you don’t. Oh sure, you can be a good analyst with the right training and persistence but you’ll never be a great analyst.”
Monica: “I am not sure “habits” is the right term. Habits tend to be routines of behavior that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously. I don’t think its habits that make folks successful in CI, rather its certain set of behavioral attributes and interpersonal competencies. With that in mind, curiosity, memory, tenacity and the ability to look at things from a systems dynamics POV are crucial. The ability to create a balanced argument, and rhetorical competency are key.”
His career as a US Navy Intelligence expert has given Bob some valuable insights into what sort of habits or personality traits are necessary for a successful career in the intelligence field. Here are the 7 habits he believes every intelligence analyst should develop:
1) Be Organized and Disciplined
Great analysts are more akin to artists than scientists, hence my reference to musicians and painters above. However, they also must have the discipline to approach each task in an orderly and scientific manner so they can reproduce the results and show the background materials that led them to the conclusions they drew.
2) Communicate with Confidence, Clarity and Credibility
The second thing that makes a great analyst is the ability to present thoughts or ideas in a clear and concise manner so that the untrained can understand what is being presented.
3) Find Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise
The third concept is the ability to project the patterns that emerge forward and predict, within a reasonable accuracy, what will happen next or at sometime in the future. This is not to say that great analysts are soothsayers but rather that they have the ability to assimilate vast amounts of data into a cohesive pattern and , based on logical skills, deduce what might be the next step in the pattern. Great analysts have the ability to look at dissimilar objects, thoughts, or actions and see in their minds eye patterns that ordinary people would overlook, and then, have the ability to put those patterns to paper in an intelligent fashion so the layman can see and understand them. The ability to see the patterns is the part that a person is born with not something that can be taught. It is the schooling in research and thought process that allows the analyst to put into words what their mind is showing them. Great analysts also have a large helping of patience. Some patterns take several months if not years to develop.
4) Adopt a Patient, Methodical Approach
The great analyst has the vision to see patterns develop early in the process and wait until the pattern becomes clear before announcing it. This patience is what makes a mediocre presentation into a great presentation that has substance and can be relied upon by the decision makers. Without patience, you get a shot from the hip and what makes hindsight 20/20.
5) See the Bigger Picture
The great analyst is also someone who is not afraid to stick by their convictions when the odd outlying data point seems to throw the pattern off. They recognize it for what it is and factor it into the overall picture.
6) Be Flexible and Responsive to Change
The great analyst has the ability to recognize when the pattern is getting defused due to a miscalculation and is agile enough to retool the process to bring the pattern back into proper perspective. In other words, they can recognize when they are headed down the wrong path and have the foresight to change direction when the pattern deviates from what is expected due to unforeseen forces or events.
7) Learn from Mistakes
Lastly, the great analyst recognizes when they have erred and are free to admit they got it wrong. They learn from experience and experience is what you get when you don’t get it right the first time.
Please add your voice in the comments’ section below. We want to hear what habits you think are most important for an intelligence analyst.