Monthly Archives: September 2015

A Couple of Things Never to Forget

Some might forgive; nobody should forget!

There is not much to say that will erase the pain, sorrow and anger that persists to today. A new generation is coming along and in not too many years people in their twenties will have no recollection of the events that took place on September 11, 2001. Those of us who were over the age of four (and some who were younger for very personal reasons) will always remember what we were doing and where we were when we heard about “the towers”, “the plane in Pennsylvania” and “the plane that hit the Pentagon”.

Many of us, working as analysts for the Department of Defense at the time, were blindsided. Despite other attempts on the U.S., a few of which were more successful than anyone cared to admit, we were surprised by the extent of the impact made by a small number of men who hijacked airplanes as suicide bombers. To say that patriotism jumped to a new level that day is not an accurate description. Much like the response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 the emotions motivating the response trasitioned from the shock of a stunning, terrible reality, to deep sorrow for the lives that were lost and maimed, to anger and finally to a palpable desire to retaliate. For the first time in a very long time, lines were forming at military recruiting stations!

Pearl Harvor - December 7, 1941

I am purposely avoiding any discussion of the appropriateness of our national response, although an earlier article  posted on the 7th about the War to End All Wars will readily divulge my viewpoint. The point is that much like decision makers who could have preempted both historical events, today’s decision makers  in  business, government or the non-profit sector are just as apt to ignore the analysts’ recommendations!

Do I believe they are totally at fault?  Absolutely not!! To be honest, analysts can assume a huge share of the blame.   The reluctance of decision makers to tie their (1) their reputations and (2) the future of their organizations (large or small) to the recommendations of some geek spouting off about probabilities, risk assessment, p-values, confidence intervals, simulation results and sensitivity analysis is pretty understandable.  It has taken us, in the analytical community, far too long to learn that recommendations are useless if nobody cares to hear them or if they aren’t in time to effect feasible solutions. I cannot recall how many times, while working at the Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity, I had to explain that the 80% defensible solution in time for the decision was far more appreciated than the 100% solution offered too late!

It is certainly the historical case, that had intelligence analysts been able to get the results of their analysis to decision makers in time on the “date that shall live in infamy”, then the recommendations to get the fleet moving and our air forces in Hawaii alerted would have saved thousands of lives that day. In total, 2,403 Americans died and 1,178 were wounded. (Patrick Watson (Dec 1, 2007). Watson’s Really Big WWII Almanac, Volume 2: July to December. Xlibris Corporation. p. 592.) Consider how the subsequent historical events might have changed, had the Japanese success at Pearl Harbor not destroyed such a significant part of our Pacific sea power? Our response might have been much swifter and could have prevented the loss of so many more lives, both military and civilian.

With respect to the events fourteen years ago today, I have no direct information on what, if anything, intelligence analysts had concluded that could have led to recommendations to thwart the attack. Nonetheless, I’m painfully aware of the culture of competition that existed among the various intelligence organizations; a factor which was also present in 1941.  It certainly didn’t help that important information was not shared across organizational boundaries.

Whether in government, business or non-profit organizations, we still have a long way to go to foster environments of trust and collaboration which would place the needs of the organization foremost in the decision-making process. Eliminating stove pipes which do not add value to your product or service is an important step. Insisting that your analysts offer relevant, actionable recommendations in bottom line up front type briefings and reports is your responsibility.  Although you might only require the summary and recommendations, also insist that information which allow you as the decision maker to “get into the weeds” if you need to be provided as back-up slides or report appendices. (A good idea from time to time just to remind the analyst that recommendations need to be defensible with validated data and appropriate analysis.)   It is also a real good idea to let the analyst know when you need to make the decision;  just maybe that will convince him or her to get you what you need in time. Otherwise, your recommendation to the analyst, based upon your own analysis might be that he or she look a good placement firm.  If they don’t provide information to help you avoid  disasters, big and small, then you don’t really need them.