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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Trying to Solve Mysteries as Puzzles -do influencers have it wrong?


An excellent book I just finished reading was Malcolm Gladwell’s “What the Dog Saw”. I occasionally find his stories and points having great relevance to the field of influence (Is there any concept better boiled down than “stickiness” to describe influence objectives?). In the chapter Open Secrets, he breaks down if were really deceived by Enron by proposing there are two approaches to information gathering as it relates to solving either a puzzle or a mystery (his thesis is Enron was not a mystery because it provided full disclosure in all of its filing, it’s just that the amount and confusing projection of the information made it a puzzle to solve) . For the Cold War, intelligence gathering was solving a puzzle—we knew the players and boundaries, we just needed to “fill in the blanks” here and there. The hunt for UBL--a mystery. If it was a “fill in the blanks” puzzle problem-set, we would have much more quickly ended this hunt. The problem was, Gladwell proposes, is we tried to solve a mystery as if it were a puzzle. I pose that the challenge of truly succeeding in Counter-IED efforts is that we are approaching a mystery as a puzzle, and perhaps not knowing the difference. Using puzzle solving processes, to include assessing results/success/intelligence, on a mystery problem may be the proverbial “wrong tool for the job.” No matter your effort, your starting point/approach is all wrong, and won’t get better.

Do influence practitioners fall into the same trap? Our effects cousin, field artillery, operates in a “puzzle” battle-space: those practitioners know the physical layout, they engage when the enemy is found, fill in the blanks of the puzzle with assessments, repeat process. The influence or true information aspects of IO operate on a mystery basis: no eyes on target, receipt confirmation difficult, time and difficulty in assessing effects and causal actions, etc. This is why the OODA loop has been a flawed process when applied to IO: it’s a puzzle process and IO is a mystery. It’s the difference between two boxers in a ring (classic OODA loop situation: I know my opponent is going to engage; the puzzle is when, how, how hard and how frequent) and a boxer walking down a dark alley in a bad neighborhood in a nice suit and a lot of bling, facing a potential hidden opponent. The first is a puzzle, the second is a mystery.

Influence is mystery construct. Just because we know who how and maybe when to influence doesn’t mean it’s less of a mystery. Do we falter because we try to make it a puzzle with our approach to processes such as MOE? Presence, access, and awareness might be distinguishing qualifiers of a puzzle versus a mystery. A Tactical MISO Team that operates in a brigade AO might have success treating its problem-set as a puzzle, but what about a regional MISOTF? A GCC JSITF? Definitely at the mystery level, but our processes, doctrine, if not our analytical intuition drive to treat it as a puzzle. Are we using the wrong tools and mindset in strategic and operational IO, SC, MISO, PA or influence activity in general?

**An afterthought: How I would categorize the functions of the various IO capabilities-
Puzzle: EW, OPSEC, Deception, CNO, (CMO?), tactical MISO, KLE
Mystery: IO, SC, MISO, PA

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