By Sean Bukowski
Sean Bukowski is a Senior Program Manager of FBI Programs and leads IntelliBridge’s Intelligence Analysis Community of Practice.
In any profession, neglecting your weaknesses opens the risk that, over time, they will overshadow your strengths. Being able to identify your weaknesses is fundamentally a strength and it’s a necessary skill for self-improvement. For an Intelligence Analyst (IA), we find that there are a number of internal and external factors that can lead to common errors and mistakes. In this article, we’ll explore ways to become more cognizant of those potential pitfalls and offer ways to mitigate or eliminate those risks on your way to becoming a more successful analyst.
Flexibility & Adaptability
The intelligence mission at-large is regularly changing and evolving. For intelligence analysis to effectively support the mission, an IA must be flexible and able to adapt. Rigidly structured approaches and/or relying on the same methods and processes may not work in all situations. The intelligence picture (i.e. identified threats and actions taken to defend against them) is never a clear-cut, black-and-white matter; it is a world of gray. While we can’t account for every factor, a flexible approach, one that can be easily altered in response to variable inputs, allows an IA to cover a much wider range of situations and increases the probability of finding a valid and reliable answer for the matter at hand.
Collaboration & Communication
Once a solution to an intelligence question is in hand, an IA must be able to relay these answers clearly and concisely to key stakeholders. These stakeholders include colleagues who will layer in their own intelligence and those who will take action on the intelligence. An unwillingness or inability to communicate with partners, operational leaders, or decision makers altogether limits the usefulness of the analysis and assessments. By design, an IA has limited access to intelligence; coordination and collaboration with other intelligence partners improve assessments and reveal a more complete and contextualized intelligence picture.
Clearly and efficiently communicating the intelligence picture to operational leaders and decision makers is vital to ensure the information is used properly. Those leasers must be able to easily—and sometimes very quickly—identify every point that an IA is trying to relay. Otherwise, the information could be misunderstood or ignored, resulting in no action, or worse—action taken based on a misunderstanding.
Training & Mentorship
In order to meaningfully improve upon one’s ability to adapt and communicate, an IA needs to proactively seek external support in the form of training and mentorship. Trainings can come in many different forms (e.g. onsite instruction, online seminars, educational platforms) and from a number of different resources. Training provides directed guidance to address objectives that can be applied to multiple IAs or tasks. While trainings can be specialized, they’re often not personalized. That is where a more informal solution can come to play: mentoring.
It’s important to note that training and mentoring should not be treated as an ‘either/or’ scenario; instead, they should be used together. Where training is directed from expertise, mentoring is directed from experience. A mentor, or even someone who can provide one-off constructive feedback, provides guidance directed at specific tasks or performance of the individual IA, derived from the providers own experience. This guidance addresses something specific to the IA in order to focus on their individual development.
The lessons learned from training courses or experienced mentors give IAs the tools to recognize when these shortcomings occur and better prepare them to adjust, ensuring their work is not negatively impacted. Like applying a lesson to any problem overtime and with regular practice, the solution becomes easier to implement until it becomes second-nature. There are many other levels of obstacles that an IA faces in performance of their duties; however, the utilization of training courses and mentors can be applied for improving practices across the IA realm and business in general. The most effective way to overcome our shortcomings is to take a step back, acknowledge the problem, and ask for help.
IntelliBridge is a premier partner to homeland security, federal law enforcement, defense, and civilian agency customers who helps solve complex technology, intelligence, and mission support challenges. Headquartered in McLean, Virginia, with locations and staff nationwide, IntelliBridge makes its customers successful by delivering best-in-class solutions through a combination of deep domain expertise, advanced technology, and passion for the mission. IntelliBridge is a portfolio company of Enlightenment Capital. To learn more or join the team, visit www.intellibridge.us.