The Intelligence Cycle: Project Runway Style

Posted: October 20, 2008 in Kitsch, Tradecraft
Tags: , , ,

So, this is GiRl SpY’s first departure from the dames. I hope you won’t mind if I expound on a topic that is most confounding. Trust me, I’ll return to the ladies tomorrow. And at risk of this sounding like a total cliche about women, which is something I strive hard to avoid here, I’m going for it…

As a student analyst, I am always surprised at how often I have to educate people about the Intelligence Community. Quite simply, people do not have the faintest clue how it all works. They think all IC employees are operatives running amok with guns and killing people.

The easiest way I have found to explain the IC community is by starting with the Intelligence Cycle. I know it’s not perfect, but it’s largely what we are taught to go by, so this is where I start. No matter how many times I have tried to explain this to a particular set of friends, I still receive nothing less than a look of utter incomprehension.

That is, until last weekend.

This couple I know were out of town for the finale of Project Runway (their favorite show) and invited me over for a Tivo’d marathon. I like the show, but I haven’t hooked up my TV in nearly a year, so I jumped at the chance for an evening of friends, food, wine, and a marathon session with fashion guru Tim Gunn.

During the show, it occurred to me: “You know this show is not unlike what we do at school.” From this starting point, I started to explain the intelligence cycle for the umpteenth time from the perspective of Project Runway, which as devoted fans, was something I thought they would understand.

Heidi Klum and gang are the Decision Makers and they have a problem: What to wear when you only have materials from an automobile to dress yourself. They take this problem to their analysts, or in this case, their designers, and they task them: Design an outfit using only materials from inside a car.

Having received their requirements, the designers/analysts plan their attack of the problem. In most cases, designers sketch a design which gives them a jumping off point. An analyst may do conceptual modeling or formulate an Intelligence Collection Plan. In this case, the designers pick a car that looks most promising and sift through the material and begin their collection process.

The designers now return to the workroom where they lay out their materials. An analyst may collect any and all data pertaining to specific topic, but they may not necessarily need all of it, like a designer may not need all the material they collected for their outfit. The analyst begins to process and exploit the data they have collected while the designers pick out the materials that will best suit the outfit they plan to construct.

Usually around this point in show, the designers have begun constructing their outfits. An analyst will begin analyzing the remaining data that has not been filtered out. This is when Tim Gunn reappears, visits each designer, provides his opinion on where they are going, and offers his unerring advice of to “make it work”. In an ideal world, the analyst would have a Tim Gunn-type person doing the same, but unfortunately, this is not always the case.

The designers are now pretty hell-bent on construction. The have a clock to beat and it’s all work-work-work until midnight. Analysts often have the same time constraints placed upon them and can operate under some enormous pressure. Unfortunately for all, time constraints do not necessarily lend to the best work, but then no one said life is fair. While designers are constructing, analysts are now taking their analyzed data and producing a final product for the Decision Makers.

The Runway Show! After a flurry of hair, make-up, and last minute fittings, the designers present their frocks on the runway to Heidi and gang. Analysts will produce a written report or presentation of some sort which is then passed on to their Decision Makers. Heidi and gang will view the frocks, haul the designers on stage for questions or clarifications, have a private chat, provide feedback, and then begin the process of elimination. For analysts, many times the final act is the act of dissemination, providing your final product to the Decision Maker.

For analysts these thing do not always follow as one would hope. You may or may not meet the decision maker, you may or may not be asked questions, you may or may not receive feedback. By the end of the day, however, if you’re country isn’t involved in an ill-advised war and you if don’t have a security agent standing over your desk watching you clear out your workspace, you may safely assume you’ve made it to the next challenge round.

And as crazy and ridiculous as all of this sounds, believe it or not, I finally received the feedback I’ve been waiting for. After presenting this comparative analysis to my friends they slowly nodded their heads with a theory affirming “Ah-haaaa……..”.

  1. kwheaton says:

    Not the way I would have put it but brilliant nonetheless!

  2. girlspy says:

    Thanks! Unfortunately, this is about the only TV show these friends of mine watch. The pickings for comparison were slim.

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