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Sir David Omand on Leveraging How Spies Think In Our Business and Personal Lives

Sir David Omand is one of the most respected intelligence professionals in the world and author of the book How Spies Think: Ten lessons in intelligence.

His career in intelligence began shortly after graduating from Cambridge in 1969 when he joined the UK’s GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters). He would later become the director of GCHQ. He also served as the first UK Security and Intelligence Coordinator, the most senior intelligence, counter-terror and homeland security position in the UK.

In this OODAcast we discuss lessons in leadership from his time in the intelligence service and his views on the current threat environment, including threats to nations, corporations and citizens of the free world. We also examine how his time in intelligence informed his own models for understanding and analyzing complex situations and how this motivated him to write How Spies Think.

We examine concepts critical to any corporate or government intelligence organization, including:

  • The need to understand history for critical context (Like Churchill put it, “the further back you look, the further ahead you can see”).
  • Why trained defense lawyers can make good deception planners
  • How to find balance between being separate enough from decision-makers so they do not bias you but close enough so you can know their plans and know how to influence them
  • The importance of building trust throughout the organization and with partners and consumers
  • The new realities of the information age, including new tools at the disposal of adversaries
  • New mental models for analysis

The interview also examines Omand’s lessons by use of a framework he developed to capture the essence of how intelligence analysts and operational decision makers can deal with the modern information environment through perception and analysis. He calls this the SEES model. SEES stands for:

  • Situational Awareness: A baseline understanding of the situation gained through observation.
  • Explanation: Contextualizing facts so they can be better understood.
  • Estimation: The formal methods used to articulate what is known and what may be coming.
  • Strategic Notice: The provision of actionable insights to decision-makers.

This model is examined in the context of both history and current operations in a way that can inform how intelligence is used not only by governments but by businesses and citizens.

Podcast Version:

Related Resources

How Spies Think: Ten lessons in intelligence

Sir David Omand on LinkedIn

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Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of OODA LLC, the technology research and advisory firm with a focus on artificial intelligence and cybersecurity which publishes OODALoop.com and CTOvision.com. Bob is the author of the book The Cyber Threat. Bob has been an advisor to dozens of successful high tech startups and has conducted enterprise cybersecurity assessments for businesses in multiple sectors of the economy. He was a career Naval Intelligence Officer and is the former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency.