Applying Structured Thinking to Your Problems
Four models or frameworks help us understand how analysis and critical thinking relate to our particular issue or problem. They focus on key dimensions, such as whether data is known or unknown and whether the analysis is reactive or proactive. Student work in small groups to relate the models to their work environment and products.
Conceptualizing Analytic Frameworks and Constructing Logical Arguments
Spending a little time at the beginning of a project to frame the issue and establish the analytic process pays dividends in structuring a solid and meaningful analytic question and establishing the analytic process to generate products, recommendations, and strategies. Students practice identifying the claims, reasons, evidence, and assumptions that comprise analytic arguments and distinguish what makes the arguments effective.
Dealing with Cognitive Biases and Intuitive Traps
Our brains help us deal with ambiguity by drawing on our past experience, but these mindsets are difficult to overcome and can lead us to make errors. The class discusses and participates in exercises that illustrate the impact of memory pitfalls and how structured analytic techniques can help avoid common cognitive biases and practitioners’ intuitive traps.
Brainstorming and Structured Brainstorming
Brainstorming is a group process designed to generate a greater variety of ideas and perspectives than an analyst could do alone. Students practice Structured Brainstorming, using silent brainstorming and sticky notes to quickly frame the range of forces and factors that concern and impact their customers.
Checking Your Key Assumptions
One of the most frequently used techniques, the Key Assumptions Check is a systematic effort to make explicit and question the mental model that guides an analyst’s thinking. Students practice the technique on a question regarding their assumptions about future terrorist attacks.
Generating Multiple Hypotheses
Hypotheses are potential explanations or conclusions about issues that analysts test by collecting and presenting evidence. They can be generated by brainstorming or by a more structured technique that generates permutations of the component parts of a lead hypothesis. Students practice on a simple security-related example.
Analyzing Evidence against Multiple Hypotheses
Analysis of Competing Hypotheses seeks to reject rather than confirm hypotheses by systematically evaluating data against a complete set of alternative hypotheses to determine whether they are consistent or inconsistent with each one. Students generate and assess evidence based on the hypotheses developed in the previous exercise.
Using Indicators to Maximum Advantage
Indicators are observable phenomena that can be periodically reviewed to help track events, spot emerging trends, and warn of unanticipated developments or trends. Students learn the qualities of a good indicator and discuss best practices for using indicators in analytic products.
Generating Alternative Futures
Postulating scenarios enables analysts to convey the multiple ways in which a situation might evolve and alert decision makers to opportunities they can plan for or risks they can avoid. Students practice generating alternative futures by defining the extremes of two driving forces to generate four possible scenarios that range from best case to worst case.
Assisting Decision Makers with the Impact Matrix
The Impact Matrix identifies the key actors involved in a decision, their level of interest in the issue, and the impact of the decision on them. Students practice this framing technique to get a better sense of how well or poorly a decision may be received, how it is most likely to play out, and what would be the most effective strategies to implement a decision or a new policy.
Putting It All Together: Five Habits of the Master Thinker
Each of the techniques practiced maps to one of the five key critical thinking skills that analysts need to develop and practice on a daily basis. The class discusses the value of using specific techniques for types of security products and how the techniques can save time and encourage collaboration.