McKinsey had an interview recently with Kenneth Knight who is the national intelligence officer for warning. I thought that was a great title and a tough job. As he says, avoiding surprises essentially defines his job description. When he was asked how he balances short-term with long-term analysis, he replied:
I always use the analogy: my father was a DC policeman. And some of this is about the difference between a stakeout, where you’re watching some known activity that you’re interested in—say country A invading country B—and more walking the beat, where you’re going through your neighborhood looking for signs that don’t look right to you. Maybe it’s anomalies, maybe it’s some kind of activity that is new, and potentially maybe you just want to understand it.
But that balance between the horizon scanning—walking the beat—and then the standing warning issues, where you know you’re concerned and want to watch, there’s a range of analytic techniques. And I think one size doesn’t fit all there.
I feel much better about the, what I would call, enduring warning concerns—the stakeout problems, where I know to watch, and we built an analytic process, and we watch the area, and we typically have designated people watching it. I think we can still get surprised there, but those I feel pretty good about. It’s the emerging issues that we didn’t imagine or didn’t know to watch. And that’s what my staff is trying to push and engage and uncover out of that tremendous daily and weekly, monthly product that our community churns out.
Sustaining good reputation requires the same kind of diligence and scenario planning. Watching carefully or staking out your stakeholders and shareholders while making sure your peripheral vision is in check is required to safeguard reputation. Keeping an eye on the industry, competitors, partners and now government is necessary to maintaining reputational balance. As I have repeated here before, hope is not a plan.