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The Five Habits of the Master Thinker

By Randolph H. Pherson

Often analysts will observe that they do not have enough time to use Structured Analytic Techniques. When presented with this challenge by analysts in the UK Cabinet Office, Mr. Pherson came up with the following response: Develop these five habits when you have time so that when time is short you have developed a capacity to use them instinctively. This article describes the Five Habits of the Master Thinker in detail, reviews how they were selected, and explores how they can most easily be inculcated into how an analyst processes information.

Appeared in the Journal of Strategic Security 6, no. 3, pages 54-60 in Fall 2013.

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Overcoming Analytic Mindsets: Five Simple Techniques

By Randolph H. Pherson

Postmortems of virtually every major intelligence failure over the past two decades have identified ingrained analytic mindsets as a key contributing cause. Past has demonstrated that analytic mindsets are easy to form and extraordinarily difficult to overcome. When key assumptions and critical data are not challenged, the result at best is poor analysis; at worst, it results in a major intelligence failure. Simply sensitizing analysts to the variety of analytic traps they are most likely to encounter rarely prevents them from falling into analytic traps. Analysts need to employ at least five techniques that help them think critically about their evidence and key judgments.

Presentation to the National Security and Law Society conference on Emerging Issues in National and International Security, 21-22 March 2005, at the American University Washington College of Law, Washington, D.C.

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The Tradecraft of Warning: Overcoming Cognitive Barriers

By Randolph H. Pherson

Warning analysts can reduce the chances of main-line analysts and policymakers being surprised by future events if they employ structured analytic techniques. This paper describes 12 tools-some recently developed-that warning analysts can employ to help them challenge assumptions, generate multiple hypotheses, discover unknown unknowns, and track alternative futures. Three techniques are particularly useful in helping analysts anticipate low probability events and avoid surprise: High Impact/Low Probability Analysis, What If? Analysis, and the Pre-Mortem Assessment. Use of these techniques will ensure greater rigor in the analysis and reduce the chances of surprise.

This paper was prepared for the “Seminar on the Tradecraft of Warning: New Approaches and New Thinking,” hosted by the ODNI’s National Intelligence Council and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research on February 20, 2009.

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Intelligence and Medicine: Parallel Cognitive Traps

By Ray Converse and Randolph H. Pherson

As society becomes more complex and interrelated, cognitive errors become ever more costly. These errors transcend our entire society, affecting analytic processes in medicine, intelligence, law enforcement, and the business community. Studies have concluded that problems with the delivery of health services, for example, are due to flaws in how physicians process data. Some experts assert that intelligence professionals suffer from similar error rates. A careful review of medical and intelligence literature would suggest that both professions are equally affected by a failure to check key assumptions, generate multiple hypotheses, assess the diagnosticity of competing hypotheses, seek disconfirming evidence, and assess the potential for deception. This paper provides examples of how both professions are subject to these same cognitive traps.

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How Do Cognitive Pitfalls Limit Our Ability to Anticipate Rare Events?

By Sarah Miller Beebe & Randolph H. Pherson

What is it in our cognitive process that makes it so difficult to anticipate rare events? Rare events by definition are uncommon, but the cognitive processes that seem to limit our ability to anticipate them are not. The immense cognitive capacity of the human brain facilitates fast thinking and effective cognition, but there is a hitch: the things that help us efficiently recognize patterns and quickly perform routine tasks can also lead to inflexible mindsets, distorted perceptions, and flawed memory. The ramifications of these seemingly minor hitches can be devastating.

Prepared as part of a collection of articles entitled “Anticipating Rare Events: Can Acts of Terror, Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction or Other High Profile Acts Be Anticipated? A Scientific Perspective on Problems, Pitfalls, and Potential Solutions” sponsored by the

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Topical Strategic Multilayer Assessment: Multi-Agency/Multi-Disciplinary White Papers in Support of Counter-terrorism and Counter-WMD in the Office of the Secretary of Defense/DDR&E/RTTO, November 2008.

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Anticipating Rare Events: The Role of ACH and Other Structured Analytic Techniques

By Randolph H. Pherson, Alan R. Schwartz, & Elizabeth Manak

By definition one is not expected to see the unexpected. As human beings, we tend to assume the future will be an extension of the past, even though we know intellectually that the past is not a reliable guide to the future. The good news is that there are tools that help us imagine how the future might surprise us, wind tunnel possible strategies, and reliably track signposts that can tell us where we are headed. Two of the most valuable techniques analysts can use are the Key Assumptions Check and Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH). Other techniques that challenge mindsets and help analysts anticipate rare events include The Pre-Mortem Assessment, Quadrant Crunching, Multiple Scenarios Generation, and Indicators.

Prepared as part of a collection of articles entitled “Anticipating Rare Events: Can Acts of Terror, Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction or Other High Profile Acts Be Anticipated? A Scientific Perspective on Problems, Pitfalls, and Potential Solutions” sponsored by the Topical Strategic Multilayer Assessment: Multi-Agency/Multi-Disciplinary White Papers in Support of Counter-terrorism and Counter-WMD in the Office of the Secretary of Defense/DDR&E/RTTO, November 2008.

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Papers on Collaboration

These articles appeared in Collaboration in the National Security Arena: Myths and Reality ? What Science and Experience Can Contribute to its Success? in June 2009. The articles are part of a collection that was published by the Topical Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA), Multi-Agency/Multi-Disciplinary White Papers in Support of Counter-Terrorism and Counter-WMD in the Office of Secretary of Defense/DDR&E/RTTO.

The Essence of Collaboration: The IC Experience

By Randolph H. Pherson & Joan McIntyre

What are the necessary ingredients for effective collaboration? This study provides a framework for creating such an environment in the Intelligence Community. This robust approach includes the three prerequisite core principles for embarking on effective collaboration, four enablers that help drive organizational transformation toward collaboration, and six imperatives that will help sustain a collaborative environment.

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Transformation Cells: An Innovative Way to Institutionalize Collaboration

By Randolph H. Pherson

Instituting a culture of collaboration is a daunting task that requires far more than merely improving information technology and enabling information

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sharing systems. This paper identifies the elements that together can power the transformation to more effective collaboration. This innovative approach explains how the use of internal consultants, robust support teams, and sound incentives for encouraging individual and institutional participation can help to institutionalize effective collaboration.

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Breaking the Mold in Developing Training Courses on Collaboration

By Randolph H. Pherson

Major progress has been made in recent years to inculcate more collaborative work practices into the daily routines of analysts, collectors, and operators, but a common complaint has been the lack of effective Intelligence Community-wide training programs. This paper addresses proposes a different approach to training that is based on a simple concept: “Train as you should work.” It argues that collaboration training should focus less on explaining the values of collaboration and more on an experiential learning approach that helps officers build collaborative teams and utilize collaboration tools more effectively.

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A Framework for Thinking about Collaboration within the Intelligence Community

By Joan McIntyre, Douglas Palmer, & Justin Franks

The Director for National Intelligence (DNI) envisions a globally networked intelligence enterprise created by integrating foreign, military, and domestic capabilities to provide decision advantage to policy makers, warfighters, homeland security officials, and law enforcement personnel. Over the last few decades, the term collaboration has been associated with a host of related terms such as teamwork, horizontal integration, communities of interest (or practice), jointness, netcentricity, and multi-INT fusion. More recently, the emergence of new virtual collaboration capabilities is broadening the depth and scope of collaborative activities. This paper seeks to provide a framework for understanding the various concepts associated with collaboration and to propose a common lexicon to enhance discussion about collaboration.

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Analytic Teams, Social Networks, and Collaborative Behavior

By Richards J. Heuer, Jr., Randolph H. Pherson, & Sarah Miller Beebe

Across most of the US Intelligence Community, analysis appears to be in a transitional stage from a mental activity performed predominantly by a sole analyst to a collaborative team or group activity. There are several driving forces behind this transition, which his enabled by advances in collaborative technology. This paper presents the challenges of this changing analytic environment and how new technology can aid effective collaboration.

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Small Groups, Collaborative Pitfalls, and Remedies

By Richards J. Heuer, Jr. & Sarah Miller Beebe

As more analysis is done collaboratively, the quality of intelligence products is increasingly influenced by the success or failure of small group processes. One might reasonably be concerned that more collaboration will just mean more problems and more interagency battles. However, as explained here, it turns out that the use of Structured Analytic Techniques frequently helps analysts avoid many of the common small group process pitfalls because the techniques force analysts away from advocacy and toward inquiry.

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Blueprints for Designing Effective Collaborative Workspace

By Nahum Gershon

Critical thinking and effective planning rarely emanate from a cramped and dysfunctional workspace. A well-designed office environment, however, can significantly increase the potential for effective collaborative practices. The optimal design provides a balance between distraction-free workspace and a place where colleagues can meet and interact informally. This paper describes the elements of good office design that can support a more collaborative work environment and have a positive effect on worker productivity, creativity, and the quality of the final product. Randy Pherson has worked to improve the quality of collaborative workspace for two decades and finds Mr. Gershon’s article an important source of information and insight on the subject.

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