Usually anything with big words like ‘probabilistic thinking’ and ‘heuristics’ cause my eyes to instantly glaze over while I nod-wisely and back out towards the exit…
…but, this week, I read an article about Probabilistic Thinking which had some great insights for Intelligence Analysts.
WTF is Probabilistic Thinking?
Lad, it’s all about just making a guess!
Yep, a lack of perfect information and an unpredictable future means Intelligence Analysts need to make ‘best guess’ or prediction based on probabilities.
Why should I care?
Intelligence Analysts deal in the realm of uncertainty, and probabilistic thinking is a powerful tool for analysts to evaluate, strategise and ultimately make a call.
There’s no real ‘exact’ formula for probability, which is why some people (**Cough – academics and engineers) often freak out about making a call without certainty.
But probability is one of the key tools used by intelligence analysts. (hint: this is why you should care)
Take Sherman Kent for example, back in the 1960’s Kent wrote “Words of Estimative Probability” – where he discussed the use of terms to express probability for intelligence assessments.
Kent advocated for intelligence analysts to use probability indicators to convey assessments – a trait that’s still taught today.
How Do You Use Probability in Intelligence?
To develop sound probabilities, you need to know what ‘priors’ exist – that is, what has happened before.
You then compare this with the likelihood of the event happening again.
Probabilities must be fluid and continually assessed with new information.
When new information is received, it must update our existing understanding of the issue / problem or concern.
Will The Enemy Use The Mountains To Approach?
See – in the realm of intelligence, we don’t deal in certainties.
A decision maker asking the question above is invoking a typical black or white response – but it doesn’t leave much room for the grey.
A better approach would be to provide a probability indicator and update your assessment when more information is available.
For those playing at home – this is literally the guts of intelligence analysis.
Identify an outcome, collect information, assess the probability and reassess when more information becomes available.
How Will it Help Me?
Remember, Intelligence isn’t an exact science – using probabilities will help you develop better intelligence assessments.
If you’re unfamiliar with the process – read our article On Words of Estimative Probability and start using the terms taught by Kent today.