The Head Game, Philip Mudd


The HEAD Game: HighEfficiency Analytic Decision-Making and the Art of Solving Complex Problems Quickly.

Philip Mudd, former deputy director of the CIA Counterterrorist Center, and FBI National Security Branch, and now CNN Commentator, offers his approach to coming to a decision in an age when problems are complex, and we are overwhelmed by an avalanche of data.

In the book, Mudd lays out a process that evolved over his career with the FBI and CIA.  While the process may have been drawn from a policing / counterterrorism environment, he argues the fundamentals apply more generally.  Mudd notes all of us face decisions in our daily life, many are complex and require more than a modicum of thought. In my own experience, working in knowledge-based roles, I used analytical techniques regularly in varying degrees. So, in this context, the book is a practical How To resource.  

The first thing I noticed was the table of contents: under each chapter title is a summary of the section’s conclusions.  My first thought was here’s a man who has read How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren.   These summaries provide a concise overview of what will be learnt, packaged into a chunk that fits neatly into one’s head.  This isn’t a crime novel, so there’s nothing wrong with handing out the punch line early.  By so, the reader is able to create a mental framework that facilitates incorporating the more detailed material that comes later.  

Mudd submits that, among the things to do, it is important to phrase the right question.  The question is the analyst’s scientific theory that is either answered or not by the data subsequently collected.    Forming a question, however, is easier said than done.  While the book offers plenty of examples that show what might be good questions, determining those for a specific problem I might face is more challenging.  To that Mudd says there is a learning curve; it takes practice.  Having said that, the process outlines some validation steps, which should reduce the risk of getting the question completely wrong. This is helpful.

So why, in my role as a documentary photographer, would I find such a book of interest?  I face many of the same challenges an analyst might: what exactly is the problem I am trying to document? What questions can I ask? My data often comes in the form of research, so what do I need to form a logical progression towards the answers, or when new information comes in, where does it fit? 

May be most will find these steps automatically, or simply a natural train of thought.  I found having the process laid out, not only comforting, but more effective by offering a departure point further down the line or reasoning; one more thing that I don’t need to work out, so I can focus on my real problems.


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