Today I was asked: ‘what’s the best piece of advice I could provide to new (or current) Intelligence Analysts?’
…And while the question rattled around in my mind, I drew from a lesson I learnt years ago during my own Intelligence training. A lesson I feel is key to becoming a better intelligence analyst regardless of your experience.
My advice was: To Ask Questions!
That’s right! Asking questions is the best way become a better intelligence analyst. And you can do it straight away.
Have you heard the saying ‘the only stupid question is the one that’s not asked’? When I first heard this I remember thinking about whether I would appear dumb to the other people in the room if I didn’t understand something. I quickly realized however, to get better at anything – you need to be prepared to ask questions, and listen to other peoples’ advice.
Why I Recommend Asking Questions
When I was a junior analyst I asked a lot of questions…In fact, I probably annoyed people with the amount of questions I asked.
I believe this technique separates you from others. Asking questions allowed me to develop deeper understanding of any topic, and often rewards you with great opportunities.
I remember during a briefing once my peers were rolling their eyes every time I asked a question…they thought I was a distraction, and they all wanted me to just sit there and say nothing. But the more questions I asked the more I understood. And the more my knowledge grew.
After a few weeks I knew significantly more than my peers, and had better understanding of the issue, and greater relationship with my hierarchy. I believe it was this process of inquiry that ultimately led me to deploying on my overseas mission.
What type of questions should you be asking?
When I was undertaking my training I was told to ‘question everything’, that is – never just accept the information you’re presented. Make your questions detailed and specific, because the more specific your questions, the more specific your answers will be…
How can you start asking questions immediately?
Why, Why, Why? Do you remember when you were a kid, and you would annoy your parents by asking ‘Why?’ ‘Why?’ ‘Why?’ after everything they said…?
This technique is similar. The point is that you continue to ask questions until you have all the information you need. In essence you’re ‘drilling down’ to build your understanding of a situation or an issue.
So what? What does it mean? These two questions were drilled in to me over and over. So what? What does it mean? If you continue to ask yourself these two questions – you’ll start to develop your analytical ability, and you’ll start thinking about ‘what is the impact of this information’, and give better consideration to ‘what it means’.
Use the Five W’s. Also known as ‘interrogatives’ the five W’s (5Ws), Who, What, Where, When, Why are framing questions used to develop a better understanding of a fact or issue. Starting a question with these in mind will prompt greater level of detail, and allow for greater information-gathering and problem solving.
Do this from today, and you will immediately see that there’s more understanding, more the learn and gain a deeper level. You’ll learn, connect with others, and instantly improve using the power of asking questions, and asking them often.
What to do after you’ve asked a question?
As important as asking questions, is listening to the response. I know it might seem simplistic – even trivial perhaps, but people often have trouble listening.
Here’s the formula to stick to: Ask a good question, listen to the answer, then follow up with another good question. Simple.
Hidden Opportunities in Asking Questions
Finally, I’ve found there are hidden opportunities in asking questions. I’ve found the process of asking good questions provides opportunities to gain better understanding of important issues, and connect with people on a deeper level.
- Ask Questions, and Ask them Often
- Get used to asking questions, it shows a willingness to learn
- Use interrogatives (who, what, where, when, why and how)
- The more specific your questions, the more specific your answers
- If you don’t ask, you will never know… so if you don’t know, ASK!
So try this today and see the difference it makes, start asking more questions and let us know how it helps you. Tell us what technique you use, and how it helps you to become a better intelligence analyst!