On fauxhawks, cognitive biases and intelligence analysis

I’ve been out of the military now for slightly more than a year but still found myself adhering to AR 670-1 when it came to my trips to the barber.  Over the ears, over the collar…pretty short all over.  Some of that is necessity (my hair is very think and festooned with cowlicks everywhere and if left to its own devices would soon turn into a birds nest) but mostly it was habit.  So, I decided to change that…Here are the results :

photo(1) Note the Hitler Pillsbury Doughboy in the background. That’s a fuck you to white supremacists, not baked goods, for the record…

Now the reaction from the people I work with was quite interesting.  My close co-workers are used to my hijinks so this was just sort of a status quo but for those a bit further out from the center of our social circle there was some consternation.  My coworkers and I received questions along the lines of:

‘What’s going on? Did he lose a bet? What does it mean?’

In short…none of these people could imagine a scenario in which someone like me (or, at least someone in our community/situation/etc.) would do this unless he was compelled to.

I, on the other hand, couldn’t imagine why I wouldn’t do such a thing.

So, what does this mean for intelligence analysis?  Part of an analyst’s job is to ‘think red’ or, consider what may motivate our foes, what priorities they may have, and what actions they may take.  Part of doing that involves avoiding the cognitive bias of ‘mirror imaging‘.  Now, I’ve been working in this particular office for a couple of years now and many of these people have seen me, heard me, had the opportunity to get to know me and with regard to my haircut they were under no pressure to reach a snap decision.  Yet, these individuals were unable to come up with potential motivations for my actions.  Were unable to put themselves ‘in my shoes’ to understand my actions.  How much more difficult when dealing with people involved in more complex activities, perhaps intentionally attempting to deceive, maybe with different cultural norms, with incomplete information and when under time pressure?

Cognitive biases aren’t something to be addressed once and then considered ‘dealt with’ for all time.  We need to be aware that they are the default setting for our brains and without active measures to control for them, we’ll slip into the same old thinking ruts that can lead to shoddy analysis.

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