Are You Biased?

May 2015 Volume 2 Issue 5

By Randolph Pherson, CEO Globalytica

If you regularly depend on your intuition when making decisions, make sure to ask yourself: Are you biased?

The problem is, unless you occasionally go against your gut, you haven’t put your intuition to the test. You can’t really know it’s helping you make good choices if you’ve never seen what happens when you ignore it. 

May 2015 Harvard Business Review article: Outsmart Your Own Biases (Authors Soll, Milkman, and Payne)

As Richards J. Heuer and I explain in our book, Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis — “Structured analytic techniques are debiasing techniques. They do not replace intuitive judgment. Their role is to question intuitive judgments by identifying a wider range of options for analysts to consider.”

The use of Structured Analytic Techniques is commonplace – Globalytica has been training analysts in the Law Enforcement, Homeland Security, and Intelligence Communities for over a decade.
Throughout the spring and summer, Analytic Insider will be sharing the most popular structured analytic techniques in use today, along with tips on using the techniques and resources for more information.

Structured Analytic Technique #1: Premortem Analysis and the Structured Self-Critique

The goal of Premortem Analysis and the Structured Self-Critique is to reduce the risk of surprise and the subsequent need for a postmortem investigation of what went wrong. It is an easy-to-use
technique that enables a group of analysts who have been working together on a paper or project to challenge effectively the accuracy of their conclusions or recommendations.

Thinking in this way has several benefits. First, it tempers optimism, encouraging a more realistic assessment of risk. Second, it helps you prepare backup plans and exit strategies. Third, it can highlight factors that will influence success or failure, which may increase your ability to control the results.

May 2015 Harvard Business Review article: Outsmart Your Own Biases (Authors Soll, Milkman, and Payne)

The value of the technique is that it legitimizes dissent by prompting analysts to reframe the issue. The process of asking questions about the same topic, but from a different perspective, opens new pathways in the brain. When stakeholders work together to identify weaknesses in their analysis, problems such as Premature Closure and Groupthink as well as potential interpersonal frictions are avoided. Team members who may have previously suppressed questions or doubts about the analysis are empowered to express previously hidden concerns. If this change in perspective is handled well, each team member will know they are adding value by participating in the process of criticizing the previous judgment, and then helping to correct any vulnerabilities.

The best time to conduct a Premortem Analysis is shortly after a group has reached a conclusion on an action plan, but before any serious drafting is done. The group leader makes a statement along the lines: “Okay, we now think we know the right answer, but we need to double-check this. To free up our minds to consider other possibilities, let’s imagine that we have made this judgment, our report has gone forward and been accepted, and now, x months or years later, we realize that our analysis was spectacularly wrong; things turned out very differently from what we had expected. Now, let’s put our imaginations to work and brainstorm what could have possibly happened to cause our analysis to be flawed.”

The first step is to organize a brainstorming session to explore what could have caused the analytic judgment to be so wrong. The next phase is to conduct a Structured Self-Critique by taking the team through an ordered set of questions. The group should consider, for example, if they have examined their key assumptions and have confidence in the validity of the evidence that justifies the key judgments. Other questions to ask are: Have you considered the presence of contradictory information; assessed the potential for deception; evaluated the completeness of the data; checked for the presence of common analytic pitfalls such as confirmation bias, “satisficing,” and historical analogy; and asked what impact the absence of information could have on the key judgments.

The team then lists any deficiencies they found and employs a tool or technique to address the new-found vulnerabilities, using techniques such as the Key Assumptions Check, Analysis of Competing Hypotheses, or Deception Detection checklists.

Analytic Tips & Insight

“The motivation for conducting a Premortem Analysis . . . is straightforward. Would you prefer to learn that you might be spectacularly wrong before your paper is edited or after it is published . . . ?”

Critical Thinking for Strategic Analysis, by Katherine Hibbs Pherson and Randolph H. Pherson is available for purchase here.

Don’t Miss Out on Your Chance to Anticipate the Future!

Globalytica is launching its newest professional certificate program, Foresight Structured Analytic Techniques (FSAT), designed for professional analysts seeking to improve the quality and impact of their analysis in forecasting future events, using indicators to track emerging trends, and developing strategic plans.

Dates: June 2, 9 & 16 ( total of three 3½ hour session)

Location: Online Platform (TH!NK Live™-Globalytica’s avatar-based virtual training program)

Cost: $1,085

About the FSAT Course

This course introduces students to the Strategic Foresight Decision Tool, which includes five Structured Analytic Techniques (Foresight Quadrant Crunching™, Indicators, Indicators Validator®, Outside-In Brainstorming, and Opportunities Incubator), for developing alternative scenarios of how events will unfold. Students work through case studies and hands-on exercises to learn how best to apply the techniques and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Students will use the Indicators Validator® software. Students who pass a final exam receive a Professional Certificate in Foresight Structured Analytic Techniques.


TH!NK Suite®

Enhance the Impact of Your Analysis.

Our collaborative webbased tools help analysts employ Structured Analytic Techniques effectively. They can be used routinely making the analysis more rigorous while saving time.

Learn more