Perception Trumps Reality

About a year ago, I praised James. S. Major’s book Communicating with Intelligence, which I still believe is probably the best guide to preparing formal communications in the “real world”. (A blog, obviously, is pretty informal… and there are doubts as whether the blogosphere is very connected to reality. But I digress, as usual.) Anyway, I recently acquired a copy of a newer book by Major – Writing Classified and Unclassified Papers For National Security, whose title is pretty daunting, I admit, and probably a little off-putting to many.

My feelings on the book are actually a little mixed. It’s about half the length of Communicating With Intelligence, but still $40 MSRP. Worse yet, the first quarter of the book is basically a quick (too quick) but not very useful synopsis of the first half of the earlier volume. Great for marketing and cross-promotion, kind of crap for the reader. Nearly half the book, actually – over a hundred pages – is comprised of a usage and style guide, and while it’s more comprehensive (and contains fewer typos) than Mercyhurst’s Analyst’s Style Manual, it would almost undoubtedly have been better off as a stand-alone publication.

Nonetheless Writing does have some considerable bits of value scattered amid its exhaustive guidelines on writing citations, and so on – one of which, at least in my mind, is well worth the cover price.

I paraphrase quite a bit, but it’s this: in intelligence (be it military, national security, law enforcement, business/competitive, or any other form of intelligence), facts matter a lot less than you think. The truth of the matter is, the “truth of the matter” is less important – less relevant – than the perceptions people – especially key players surrounding whatever you’re working on – hold. It’s one of those things that seems so very, very obvious once you stop and think about it, but is easy to overlook, especially if you’re one of those who overlook that information – and intelligence – is about more than just absolute truths.

Say you want to know – say you’re instructed to find out – whether something is likely to happen in the next six months. Will the Kooler Krew attack the Guttersnipes? Will your main national competitor expand into the southeast market? Does Eddie “Chopsticks” Kaminski represent a threat to public safety when he gets let out of gaol this week?

Now, the fact of the matter may be that the Guttersnipes have four times the members and five times the guns of the Kooler Krew; that your market share in the southeast is dropping rapidly due to poor advertising decisions; and that the guy who testified against “Chopsticks” died of liver cancer last month, and the cop who put him away is on duty in Iraq for the next nine months or more. That’s reality; those are the facts.

What you need to be more concerned about, though is the question “But, do they know that?” People don’t act based on verified and corroborated facts alone; they act on what they think, what they perceive, to be the truth. If the Kooler Krew don’t know that the Guttersnipes have been stockpiling guns and recruiting heavily, they might just try to start a little something one of these days. If your competitor doesn’t realize your market share in the southeast sucks, they might just decide to expand somewhere you don’t have any market presence at all – the northwest, for example. And if nobody bothered to mention to Chopsticks Kaminski that the guy who snitched him out is dead, the folks now staying where that rat used to live might be in for one hell of a late-night surprise real soon…

It’s not that you should ignore reality altogether; far from it. Simply remember that facts and cold, hard truths are only half the picture; what people think and believe are just as important in understanding what they’re going to do, if not more so.

Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on April 22nd, 2009| Comments Off on Perception Trumps Reality

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