Constructing Intelligent Actions:

Calibrating of actions based on incomplete and ambiguous information is never an easy proposition, in the context of intelligence management we also need to add the time pressure element. Intelligence operations are understandably secretive, for a private organization such work is secretive from one’s competitors for national governments it is against their adversaries. Actions based on secretive undertakings can be varied in range. For example, if we discover that our competitor has been receiving internal research and developments from a disgruntled employee, a case of competitive intelligence, what do we do? Three options are present. One, we can terminate the employee and cut off the channel, two we can feed the competitor misinformation, and three we can begin to use the established channel to request information from the competitor by luring our employee with incentives to work as a “double agent”. Each of these courses of action will have serious ramifications that need careful consideration. Most intelligence operations fail because anticipated actions are calibrated but not executed in a manner consistent with how they were gauged; using a hammer to kill a mosquito that has landed on your hand may be effective but will likely be considered less efficient at a later date when compared to other available alternatives.

More thoughts on intelligence:

Organizations must focus on managing a viable intelligence process, rather than stay focused on churning out intelligence products. The intelligence process, reflected as behavior, requires the active, on-going, and cogent participation from a variety of sources in order to assimilate products related to data, information, and knowledge in order to determine the existence of potential threats. Like Einstein’s notion of time as a flowing river which may be observed through a hollowed tube so as to be able to witness only the fleeting presence of ‘now,’ so too intelligence agents of organizations must focus on the moving information stream through a fixed lens; what is critical is the observer retain as much of what has been observed to in order to make sense of what will be observed. Based on what is observed, the intelligence agencies must be capable of making real-time assessments, which are intended to impact future events. Too often information from the external environment is pigeon-holed and used to generate unimaginative responses. Consider an example from the private sector, Shawn Fanning, an 18 year old, in 1999 created an application that enabled to share audio and video files with their peers – Napster. Napster allowed users to download music of their choosing and create their own unique libraries. The best response from the Recording Companies was to file a legal lawsuit, a weak and unimaginative response. All the lawsuit could achieve was to slow down Napster’s development and fuel the development of several legalized clones of Napster. The Recording Companies are still trying to play catch-up to capture their lost market share.

Intelligence Management and Agile Operations:
Lack of coordinated organization among those charged with insuring the domestic tranquility of the United States contributed to the devastation of September 11th. When Castro entered Havana on New Year’s Day of 1960 there were no U.S. diplomats in Cuba because of the holiday and when India tested two nuclear weapons in 1998 no analysts were working, despite satellite evidence of nuclear test preparation six hours before detonation, because it was a Sunday. These circumstances greatly affected any possibility for an agile response to the events. In most instances, the information available to the organization was more than sufficient. However, because the agencies failed in the intelligence process, electing instead to use information selectively in an effort to provide and intelligence product, they were unsuccessful at the act of intelligence. Using a historical perspective for our criteria, we have observed that unless each of the described elements is present in the intelligence process, value and usefulness from intelligence products is diminished.

Some more thoughts on intelligence

Intelligence as a construct is multi-faceted and often convoluted. There literatures of psychology, biology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, competitive and government intelligence, and others are rich in studies that examine the construct of intelligence. I draw from these disparate literatures to present the view of intelligence as a process signifying ‘intelligent behavior’ rather than as a product of some intelligence activity. The accepted practice of regarding intelligence as a ‘product’ is not merely erroneous, it is dangerous when it accompanies an implied acceptance that the task has been completed and interrelated intelligence mechanisms either shut down or are relegated on to other matters. The Trojan decision to ‘accept’ the gift that had apparently been left behind by a dejected Greek adversary led to an action based on a product of intelligence, i.e., there was little consideration as to what that ‘gift’ might actually represent. The subsequent activity by the men of Ulysses, however, was predicated on an intelligence process. The error begins when information is misrepresented as the intelligence product, especially while the information, and the further intelligence that may become available, is evolving. This was the case in the decisions that led up to the Iraq War, if we were to assume that there were no hidden agendas. Members of the government were presented with, as many have called, “intelligence reports” on Iraq’s weapons capability. This line of thinking favors the product view of intelligence, and is flawed. What was presented to members of the government were “information reports” that needed to be evaluated intelligently! As we now know, this did not happen, instead government officials assumed the reports to be intelligent and did not feel the urge to apply their intelligence on them to draw their own conclusions regarding the information presented.

Thoughts on Language:

Limit to language also limits thought and to limit thought is to limit the possibility of alternatives. Language is the most common medium through which information is transferred. But communication can be restricted depending on what type of language is used. The use of ‘restrictive’ language such as mathematical expressions, while capable of transferring highly structured pieces of intelligence also restricts the audience to those capable of translating the expressions. Alternately, when a high variety in language is present, as in interpretive communications, e.g., art or propaganda, meaning looses the preciseness because of the use of symbols and the ‘possibilities’ of meanings. Not surprising then, terrorist groups, use art and photos to transmit ‘emotive’ messages between stations while technically advanced groups employ more complex languages that can confound simple phenomena. To contemplate the confusion that language can cause consider the following, the word Al-Qaeda literally means ‘base’, ‘home’, or ‘foundation.’ The term was originally used to signify the place from which the Taliban attacked Soviet adversaries. Though the word has become synonymous with Bin-Laden’s organization for most westerners, captured or alleged terrorists disavow allegiance to Al-Qaeda because to them, the word has no substantive meaning. This notion provides an example of a problem that develops when an intelligence agency has little or no experience with the culture or language of their indigenous contacts.

Sorry for the long absence. I have been busy writing my thesis. I have now submitted it for review to my committee. Let us wait and see. I have my fingers crossed. Cheers!

An article I wrote - 'Mind Your Language' will be published in the: IEE Engineering Management Magazine. Here is an excerpt, enjoy!

Mind Your Language was a comedy series that used to appear on the BBC channel in the late 1970s. The comedy depicted issues faced by immigrants when attempting to learn the English language. On immigrating to the UK, individuals from different countries (Italy, Japan, China, Pakistan, India, Sweden, Spain, and France) were asked to learn English from a British instructor. The comedy vividly displayed how issues of communication, coordination, and organization got disrupted due to lack of common language, context, and expressions. While some of the plots may have been exaggerated for the sake of humor, most of scenes were realistic of issues faced when individuals who speak different languages attempt to communicate and engage in joint work. In organizations, the concept of language is central to the occurrence of organizing, language is what connects the various entities and enables for the flow of information and knowledge.

Language is what differentiates human species from others in our environment. Language is a medium of signification, i.e. language helps us use signs for expressing thoughts. Today, with the omnipresence of global and multinational corporations, I am always surprised by how little care is taken by senior executives in their use of languages. Most organizations commit blunders when communicating with their constituents who are in foreign locations. One example comes to mind, a senior and seasoned executive in the Middle East was giving a presentation in Chicago, Illinois. The Executive opened up his remarks with, “Good morning gentlemen” and then proceeded into his presentation. He obviously forgot to take a good look at the audience to realize that half of them were ladies. Obviously, he had turned off half of his audience and his message fell on deaf hears. Other common errors that occur when language is not properly accounted for have to do with faulty advertisements. Chevrolet naming its car “Chevy Nova” and trying to sell it in Latin America, where “no va” means “it doesn’t go”. Bacardi attempted to introduce a new fruity drink in the German market called "Pavian" to suggest French chic, however "Pavian" means "baboon" in German. Parker Pens translated the slogan for its ink, “Avoid Embarrassment- Use Quink" into Spanish as "Evite Embarazos-Use Quink" which means "Avoid Pregnancy-Use Quink". In today’s world, where conducting business globally across borders is the norm, we must be cognizant on how we communicate with people from different cultures. Failure to do so will result in poor work practices, project failures, employee hostility, and poor sense of “organizing”.

I read an interesting article - Rethinking the Midmarket, by Aaron Ricadella, in InformationWeek (September 12, 2005, p. 53-58) [Available at InformationWeek], outlines Microsoft’s proposed strategy to target midsize companies. As noted by Ricadella, “Microsoft is making a big strategic shift in its 5- year-old business-applications division toward a simple but so-far elusive idea: Different kinds of workers use computers differently, and software should be designed for an employee's role in the company. After two years of research, Microsoft managers have identified more than 50 everyday job roles at midsize companies they believe will benefit from desktop environments created just for them--everyone from a president or CFO to account managers in a sales department to workers on a manufacturing floor. Receptionists, too, get a unique data view on their PCs…” Workers will benefit from getting access to information they care about, rather than being inundated with all organizational information. Microsoft also plans to simplify its ERP software and make it more accessible to midsize companies. And finally, software may actually be designed to meet the challenges of current work environments. As noted in Ricadella’s article, “To understand the jobs people do at midsize companies, Microsoft's engineers and managers spent two years studying their workdays in excruciating detail, recording their conversations, snapping photos of people at their desks, and generating 15,000 pages of transcripts. The conclusion: Most workers don't like their software, because it forces them to work with business automation and personal-productivity apps that are often incompatible. In other words, today's business software doesn't look like today's business…”

Dissertation Update - I have now completed the data collection and data recording phases of my dissertation. I have also completed the first round of preliminary analysis of the data. Next steps – deeper analysis, write-up, and then defend the research.

In the next few months, I will step away from the Engaged Enterprise. I will join the Information School, of the University of Washington as an assistant professor. I will begin there in December, and will be making the move to Seattle in the next few months.