Monday, September 29, 2008

Prudence and analysis

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about analysis, both in terms of competitive intelligence and in terms that affect me directly—like investment decisions, career management, whom to vote for, how my industry will be affected by the events on Wall Street and in Washington—things like that.

Anyone who has a passing acquaintance with competitive intelligence knows that analysis lies at its heart. Analysis is everything CI professionals do with information they gather to identify patterns and produce intelligence their decision-making clients use to improve their decisions.

With these issues on my mind, a paragraph in a recent New York Times column by David Brooks, "Why Experience Matters,"
caught my eye:

“What is prudence? It is the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events — the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.”
Hmmm, I thought, this sounds like analysis. In fact, I like very much Brooks’s definition of prudence as a synonym for analysis. His prudence is no Nervous Nellie of a virtue, but sagacity, shrewdness, intellectual discipline, and good judgment rolled up into one helluva risk-minimizing Athena-like attribute.

Brooks goes on to posit that prudence is acquired through experience. He says one gains experience through personal involvement and the study of history. He says prudent leaders have the ability to build and test models “… and apply those [models] to current circumstances to evaluate what’s important and what’s not, who can be persuaded and who can’t, what has worked and what hasn’t.”

I don’t recall seeing anywhere any better description of analysis and decision-making. I’m only surprised it came in the form of a political column. (Memo to self: Keep inspecting those assumptions.)

Finally, these connections among prudence, experience, and analysis also inform another ongoing argument I have with myself: When law firms build and staff their CI units, should they (1) hire CI professionals from other industries who have strong analytical skills, but no legal industry experience or (2) reassign people within the law firm to this unit who have strong industry knowledge and experience, demonstrated analytical instincts, but no CI analytical training or experience? Although this is a topic for another column, I already think the best answer will not be a simple “either-or” one.

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