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Does being in CI make you cynical or are cynical people attracted to CI?

We were having a discussion in our team meeting this week about how cynical we all are...and it led us to ask the chicken and egg question.  Does working in CI make you cynical or are cynical people attracted to CI?   What is your perspective? Are you cynical?

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Hi Melanie,

Well, if one is living in America today, and is paying a shred of attention to the affairs of the republic (ie; critically dissecting the populist propaganda meant to polarize the nation in two ideologically false camps while the Lloyd Blankfeins, Jamie Dimons,Vikram Pandits bankrupt the nation with yet more esoteric, academic finance schemes), being cynical is a best case scenario!

As it relates to CI professionals, and to address your specific query, I dont think its either or; rather its both. From a psychological profile point of view, successful Intel pros undoubtedly possess the characteristic of being inquisitive and not just readily accepting what is posited as gospel truth on face value. If we weren't that way, we would lack the fundamental driving instinct to accomplish our task. We inherently understand the power of information/disinformation, and grasp that most messages are crafted with a specific intent; and therefore yes, we approach our intelligence gathering, analysis with this in mind. So yes, I know people with this mindset are attracted to the profession in the first place, and further, that they are the ones that tend to succeed and stay in the profession. (If you wish, I could put you in touch with an ex-gov agency Behavioral Sciences expert for confirmation, this is not just my own opinion)

Now to the part about working in CI making one cynical with the aforementioned in mind- well, perhaps its more apropos to say does working in CI make one MORE cynical? I tend to think the answer to this is a resounding yes, for a multitude of reasons for multiple groups of CI folks, but perhaps not for all. The gov intel folks, the corporate folks on the strategic side, CI Managers that I have known for years, well they all seem more cynical, the tactical CI folks well not so much. However, I am not sure that the primary or only causal factor is just being in CI.

Regards,
Monica

I am entertained by your observation, Melanie.  My experience practicing competitive intelligence for years now is NOT that CI practitioners and users are cynical but rather naturally attentive, inquisitive, and creative.  Dare I even say optimistic?  In my circle we usually imagine there's more to a story/trend/rumor than what is easily shared.  We thrive on going deeper and proving this out.  We love the kudos for unveiling the truth.  We often sit back and laugh in awe when we learn the hidden truth, and discuss how cunning things can be.  But being cynical has not been an adjective I'd use to describe the group I've been working with.  Conversations rarely include "I told you so" but rather "wow, great that you figured that out."

How often are you trying to figure things out after something has already occurred?

Perhaps, you should bring some cynics into your group! :-)

CYNIC, n. : A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.

The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce

 

I would agree with Monica, in that it is probably both.  In that sense, I see CI as being self-selecting and reinforcing.  Intelligence work requires a mindset that lends itself easily to cynicism; those with the mindset will be drawn to it, and those without it won’t be very successful.  

Hi Mel,

I think those who have worked in CI a long time tend to be critical people who don't accept what is presented to them, and often wonder about the undertones and unspoken messages. I find more examples every year of events where I just kinda thought something didn't sound right, and it turns out they were way wrong. One of my favorites was back in 1999 when I was studying Enron's financials for a client. I don't know if you recall, but that was right before the "scandal" was called. I looked at their year over year increase and ran into my husband and asserted without even thinking, "These numbers are just too good to be true." Little did I realize the extent of the creative numbers at that time. So yes healthy cynicism is part of the CI persona.

However on the other hand, in order to encourage people to share that good scoop with us, it is more effective to come across as a cooperative, positive person. The cynic in us can turn people off who aren't in our space, which is most people. That's how I came to the ideas and practices around cooperative intelligence. www.thecisource.com/coopintel.

I imagine that your observation about cynicism is global, since it comes along with that insatiable curiosity that we possess.

Happy New Year!

Ellen

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