Human Minds

Dr. Purushothaman
January 15, 2014


Human Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open. A new idea is the beginning, not the end, of the creative process. It must jump over many hurdles before being embraced as an organizational solution or product. The organizational climate plays a crucial role in determining whether new ideas bubble to the surface or are suppressed. Major intelligence failures are usually caused by failures of analysis, not failures of collection.
Relevant information is discounted, misinterpreted, ignored, rejected, or overlooked because it fails to fit a prevailing mental model or mind-set. The “signals” are lost in the “noise.” How can we ensure that analysts remain open to new experience and recognize when long-held views or conventional wisdom need to be revised in response to a changing world? Beliefs, assumptions, concepts, and information retrieved from memory form a mind-set or mental model that guides perception and processing of new information. The nature of the intelligence business forces us to deal with issues at an early stage when hard information is incomplete.
If there were no gaps in the information on an issue or situation, and no ambiguity, it would not be an interesting intelligence problem. When information is lacking, analysts often have no choice but to lean heavily on prior beliefs and assumptions about how and why events normally transpire in a given country. A mind-set is neither good nor bad. It is unavoidable. It is, in essence, a distillation of all that analysts think they know about a subject. It forms a lens through which they perceive the world, and once formed, it resists change.

Patterns of expectations those analysts, subconsciously, what to look for, what is important, and how to interpret what is seen. These patterns form a mind-set that predisposes analysts to think in certain ways. A mind-set is akin to a screen or lens through which one perceives the world. There is a tendency to think of a mind-set as something bad, to be avoided. According to this line of argument, one should have an open mind and be influenced only by the facts rather than by preconceived notions! That is an unreachable ideal.
There is no such thing as “the facts of the case.” There is only a very selective subset of the overall mass of data to which one has been subjected that one takes as facts and judges to be relevant to the question at issue. Actually, mind-sets are neither good nor bad; they are unavoidable. People have no conceivable way of coping with the volume of stimuli that impinge upon their senses, or with the volume and complexity of the data they have to analyze, without some kind of simplifying preconceptions about what to expect, what is important, and what is related to what. “There is a grain of truth in the otherwise pernicious maxim that an open mind is an empty mind.” Analysts do not achieve objective analysis by avoiding preconceptions; that would be ignorance or self-delusion. Objectivity is achieved by making basic assumptions and reasoning as explicit as possible so that they can be challenged by others and analysts can, themselves, examine their validity.

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