Known Unknowns

As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it.
-Albert Einstein

  • Will Make You...Curious

    TL;DR Questions trigger visceral reactions in our mind that cause small gaps of cognitive vulnerability when our decision-capacity is at its weakest. This is what allows click-bait and other curiosities to get the better of us. We can train our brains to avoid such patterns like learning to look both ways when crossing the street as a child, or remembering to turn off the lights before leaving the house. Learning to recognize mental pitfalls will make us less susceptible to the traps used by advertisers.

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  • Logs

    TL;DR One of the educational benefits of COVID-19 is a great deal of coverage of statistical reporting, in particular an excellent, but not well understood technique known as logarithmic scaling. Logarithmic scaling allows readers to understand the effects of a given trend or quantity without the skew of large numbers. This is one of the ways we often hear health care professionals refer to when looking at lockdowns, how they work and if they can lift them.

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  • Silver Linings

    TL;DR The COVID pandemic has created an unprecedented opportunity to explore new ways of working. Where large scale transformation programmes have traditionally failed, a forced change in work that ignores existing culture, is irreverent about budget planning, bypasses leadership personalities and shares no personal biases about what it means to be ‘productivity’ gives us a test bed for new ways of working. We should seize this opportunity as best we can.

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  • R

    TL;DR The UK government has released a series of communications outlining the five tests they will use to track and inform COVID-19 lockdown measures. The government’s video regarding an infection rate, or R value, is a great example of data driven storytelling. TS:WM This one will be short This will be a short one. See the video above. I have been following the COVID-19 crisis with great interest, not only from a geo-political perspective but because of the challenges it presents in terms of data while we search for facts and truth about the virus.

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  • Fudging Numbers

    First off, a sincere thank you to all front line medical workers across the globe, particularly the NHS. You are all heros in the face of a dangerous situation and your contribution is felt by your patients and the public alike. We can never repay you for the sacrifices you are making and we all pray an event like this will never be seen again. To everyone else, if you are so moved, why not join the NHS Volunteer Army and help save lives today!

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  • TL;DR

    Hello folks, we are going to start doing this differently. I figured if I don’t like lengthy diatribe articles, neither do you. So we will be splitting the blog into a Too Long; Didn’t Read (TL;DR) section and Too Short; Want More! (TS;WM) section. I figure that serves a twofold purpose: I get better at writing intelligence BLUF’s (Bottom Line up Front), but I have rant and rave like a crazy person in the rest without burdening you.

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  • The Black Box

    The concept of a black box was developed in the 1940’s as a device that recorded the various readings of aircraft instruments. The purpose was to be accessible in the event of a crash so that investigators could understand the conditions leading to the tragedy in the hopes of learning how to avoid it in the future. Today we often see it in the context of decision-making, usually associated with shadowy “Artificial Intelligence” and “Algorithmic Learning,” all that techy stuff that journalists and politicians don’t get some times.

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  • What are the rules!

    Harking back to our golden tri-force of process, product and culture I wanted to discuss today; process. And like a high school level research paper let’s start with a google definition: “[Process] is a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.” That’s pretty straight forward. You could compare it to a function in mathematics, given an input \(A\) how do you get to output \(B\).

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  • Quantifying Ignorance

    Ever since I was a child I have had a dream, albeit a naïve one, to know everything. Obviously, I am not the most brilliant person imaginable, but what it has resulted in is an extreme generalist skill set. I have a BA as well as an MSc, I have worked in public and the private sector, I have done very manual jobs and new millennial jobs like quantitative research.

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  • Tyranny of the Mean

    We all remember studying central tendency, right? Mean, Median and Mode. I am willing to bet that your teachers also spent more time on mean because it had some maths to it. So why the other two? Look at the diagram below, Full credit to Dr. Philip Lee Miller who created it. Can we say that the “mean” is representative of this population? Well, no. Todd Rose from the Star wrote an excellent piece on the history of this problem using the US fighter pilots example.

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  • Brexit

    Back again! And what a month we have had in the UK. In case you didn’t know, I used to work in Canadian Politics, which compared to the rest of the world (especially these days) is quite tame. But politics is something I am passionate about. I like to think of myself as civilly minded democrat committed to reflecting the will of the people into robust and positive policy. Others might disagree, you know who you are ;).

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  • Leverage

    Douglas Hubbard was famous for saying, “you need less data than you think you do, and you have more data than you think you have.” I generally agree with. Simple models that explain simple issue are always favoured over the more complex black-box models that are all signing and all dancing. But what happens when we disregard Hubbard’s adage? This is where leveraging happens. Incorrect data is used in inappropriate ways and extrapolated to fill gaps it should not.

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  • The Forest and the Trees

    I feel like I make a lot of school days’ comparisons, asking readers to harken back to their teenage years when their unbridled dreams stretched to weekend plans and maybe getting a summer job. I don’t like to dwell on the image, but when we are young we cannot conceive of long term plans or consequences. To borrow a term from my high history teacher, “you are here to learn how to be adults.

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  • Be Practical!

    I thought I would change gears into something more practical this week, delivering a basic analytic product end to end. I will preface this with I hate doing analysis in Excel, but the world’s most prolific software isn’t going anytime soon. To be fair, most people are comfortable with it so that is what we will discuss in this post. What I always recommend to people is they treat their analysis as thee distinct parts.

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  • What are you Trying to do?

    What are you trying to do? That’s a question I have to ask clients all too often. This is typically necessitated for one of two reasons: the decision-maker assumes I know something I do not that would help clarify the problem, or more likely the requirements have been poorly articulated. Requirements that are critical to actually doing intelligence. Otherwise we all stumble aimlessly in the dark looking for success.

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  • Brain Failures

    There is a great clip online of Neil deGrasse Tyson describing optical illusions as “Brain Failures.” Like most of Tyson’s appearances its played for laughs while secretly teaching you about science, but analysts know this true. So true in fact that the great Richard Heuer wrote a manual for the CIA on how to over come cognitive bias called the Psychology of Intelligence Analysis. Heuer explores “brain failures” by dichotomizing the causes and exploring the effects.

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  • When you do things right...

    One of the best visualisations of intelligence management I was exposed to during my MSc at Mercyhurst University was the concept of intelligence as three distinct powers; process, product and culture. When arranged in a diagram, as below, form the foundation for proper intelligence (yes, it looks like a tri-force from Legend of Zelda and that is an apt description). Instead of focusing on the product exclusively, the intelligence tri-force image equally balances the process of making decisions, the product design itself and finally, how we as analysts influence organisational culture for the better.

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  • The Analyst Toothbrush

    Anyone that has ever worked in coding or analysis dreads picking up the work of a colleague without being included from the initial scope. Why? Because our brains are like unique software, each with their own processes, hardware, verifications, etc. Stepping into someone else’s analysis is hard and can be incompatible with our cognitive machinery. I liken it to using someone else’s tooth brush. Yeah, tooth brushes are all the same and perform the same function, but your tooth brush is yours.

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  • Let’s Begin!

    As Albert Einstein said, “As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it.” Ironically the more we learn the less we realise we know. It is that simple and humbling thought that attracted me, in part, to intelligence analysis. The idea that our hubris is a demonstration of ignorance, but acknowledgment of ignorance has a certain awe associated with it. What I imagine is close a religious experience.

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