A strategy needs to be anchored in insights. That’s not the same as information, which can be either validated (=a fact) or unvalidated, which is basically an opinion.
Moving beyond that, we can start talking about insights when we arrive at pieces of data that are *actionable* and *user specific*. An insight is by definition contextual, which means it normally doesn’t translate well. An insight to me might be gobbledygook to you. That’s because its value largely comes from how I arrived at it.
So how do you go about arriving at your own unique insights?
That’s a subject Thom Thavenius has given a lot of thought. Apart from gigs for Europol and the UN Criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia, he’s spent most of his career working as an analyst for Säpo, the Swedish equivalent of FBI.
As it turns out, there’s a strong correspondence between his trade and entrepreneurship. After all, an intelligence officer and an entrepreneur both needs to make sense of a chaotic reality and come up with convincing stories.
So how do you arrive at insights?
Thom gives a very succinct presentation on what seems to be *the* framework for all intelligence professional. It’s called Scenario Analysis and it’s a powerful tool for dealing with the unknown.
On a meta-level, this framework has three components:
- It’s team-based (all of us are smarter than any of us)
- It has a specific time horizon (if it didn’t, you wouldn’t be able to verify your proposed scenarios)
- It’s specific enough to make it verifiable (see above)
Diving into the actual framework, there are again three steps:
You begin defining the context by describing the major entities / players, their features (or attributes) and what possible factors that can either reinforce or depress the tendencies you’re seeing.
In the next step you start with identifying the “known uncertainties”, and move on to describing “possible unknown uncertainties”.
If you think that sounds fuzzy, it’s because it is. You need to widen your scope, go outside of your comfort zone and dare to think the unthinkable.
To give you an idea; imagine an airline company tasked you with strategy work just prior to 9/11, what would have been the most outrageous scenario you could have come up with, even with a stretch of imagination? It probably wouldn’t have been crazy enough, right? (In Thom’s words: “this is where we basically become novelist or movie producers”.)
The third step is the whole point of the framework: to come up with the actual scenarios. That’s scenarios in plural; at least three, no more than five.
First the “most likely” one. The second is an alternative but also likely scenario and the third one is, you guessed it, the wild and crazy one. And no matter how unlikely the scenario, always put yourself in that future and describe the state “as is”.
One might be inclined to think, as I did, that there’s a certain gloominess in spending to much time trying to come up with the most spectacular failure modes possible, but then perhaps exercising our imagination like this increases our ability to be psychologically resilient. Take the pandemic that is currently hitting us hard. Scary as it is, thinking about the next one has now become distinctly less threatening. I guess the unknown will always be more frightening than anything you can imagine.