08 January 2010

Bullet Comments

First off, I'm not an intelligence analyst. I don't even play one on TV. I do, however, occasionally have to sit through long briefings and meetings. (Sometimes, there are even meetings about how many meetings we're having.) So-called "Death by Microsoft PowerPoint" is a real threat--too many slides, and either not enough or too much information--that is faced by soldiers everywhere, every day.

In the right hands, with the right kind of information, PowerPoint can be a powerful communications tool. Not all information fits nicely into a tight shot-group of bullet points, however. I recall an old SCTV or Fridays bit, which I'll repurpose here, summarizing Leo Tolstoy's 1,300-page "War and Peace":
  • It's cold.
  • It's Russia.
  • Everybody dies.
Loses something in the translation, doesn't it?

A number of blogs this week offered supporting fires and insights to a just-released Center for a New American Security (aka "the Shadow Pentagon") critique of intelligence work in Afghanistan. Other good summmaries here and here.

I plan to recommend both the CNAS working paper and the links above to my S2-shop buddies, as soon as I get a chance. Why? Because there's good stuff there, for anyone at any level who is trying to make sense of What's Going On Over There, in order to effectively communicate it to others. There's even some good, practical advice to be had here, whether you're a corporal or a colonel. Consider this excerpt of BruceR's "Flit" blog:
Because we are all part showmen, any intelligence officer I know is prepared on the drop of a hat to talk to fill the available space. You may get 5 minutes in the back of a helicopter with your boss, or you may get 50. He may ask you 1 question or 10. Doesn't matter. You roll with it.
It is commanders and their hatchet men (and I mean that in a nice way), the operations officers and adjutants, who control your time. Any important revelation you have needs to be served up on your part with a cold assessment of the commander's receptivity in those circumstances to that info. Your objective is always to influence their decisions, and every commander needs to be reached a different way. Lots of accurate assessments have been poorly delivered, and hence ignored. [...]
The upshot is no intelligence officer, possibly ever in history, has ever been told by their boss he (or she) didn't talk long enough or didn't write long enough. If he was good he shut the tap off at the point of maximum effect. If he was bad he prattled on until the commander or someone else told him to stop.
Gotta go pack the duffel bags and suit up for the weekend. Be safe, be warm, and have an Army day!

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