Five books every intelligence analyst should read
A Tradecraft Primer: Structured Analytic Techniques for Improving Intelligence Analysis – US Government
This is a great first choice for those interested in improving their analytical techniques. The primer is short enough to read in one session and easy enough to grasp for those new to the practice of forecasting and predicting. According to the CIA, the document ‘highlights how structured analytic techniques can help one challenge judgments, identify mental mindsets, stimulate creativity, and manage uncertainty’.
You can download the Primer, for free, here.
The Signal and the Noise – Nate Silver
‘The signal is the truth. The noise is what distracts us from the truth.’ Those who follow baseball or US elections will be familiar with Silver, for he is well known for his accurate predictions in both fields. His book is less a story about his meteoric rise to statistician extraordinaire as it is a guide on how to approach forecasting and predicting in an age where, he states, our brains cannot adequately process the amount of information that is out there. In doing so, he draws on the techniques of others and incorporates interesting case studies.
Incidentally, Silver is currently putting together a team at FiveThirtyEight.com that will apply statistical analysis and other quantitative methods toward a range of issues that are making the news. If you can’t wait until the launch of this site (which is apparently imminent) and need your ‘Silver fix’, listen to him talk about the themes in his book here.
Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
Kahneman, a psychologist, is regarded as one of the most influential human behavioural scientists. Oh, and he’s won a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences too. In this book, Kahneman looks at two distinct ways in which we think; the first is the fast, intuitive and emotional way and the second is the slow, deliberate and logical approach; we use both on a daily basis. Like Silver, Kahneman incorporates the theories of others, as he delves into both ‘systems’ of thinking and their associated shortfalls, which include (and this is important for intelligence analysts) cognitive biases.
Won’t get a chance to read the book anytime soon? Listen to Kahneman talk about his ideas in a video lecture here.
The Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
A black swan is an event that is deemed unlikely, but that has enormous consequences. In this eponymously titled book, Taleb shows how black swan events have shaped the world. He argues that we analyse black swans retrospectively, as we cannot accurately forecast them (for this reason, black swans do not sit well with intelligence analysts). No doubt submitting to a demand, Taleb also addresses avenues for exploiting these game-changers.
Taleb discusses the theme of his book here.
Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die – Eric Siegel
Siegel takes on the subject of data mining. He looks at the ways big data is currently being used by a variety of organisations, including larger corporate retailers and governments, to explain and influence human behaviour. There are still, however, messages for intelligence analysts, relating to assumptions and how to use big data in one’s own research for forecasting purposes.
The author (and his book & regular conferences) has a website.