Rebels in Intelligence

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This is a podcast episode titled, Rebels in Intelligence. The summary for this episode is: <p>In this episode of the Janes podcast Terry Pattar discusses strategic thinking, diversity of thought and innovation with Carmen Medina, co-author of the book Rebels At Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within.</p>
"The Declining Market for Secrets"
04:43 MIN
"What To Do When Traditional Models Fail"
03:23 MIN
Diversity in intelligence
05:21 MIN
"Rebels at Work"
01:50 MIN
Being a "constructive" rebel
01:40 MIN

Terry Pattar: Hello, and welcome to this episode of The Janes Podcast. I'm Terry Pattar. I lead the Janes Intelligence Unit. On this episode, I have the pleasure to be joined by Carmen Medina, former Deputy Director of Intelligence at the CIA, and author of several articles, recent ones, as well, which I'm going to touch on, about intelligence work and how it's changing, and also, author of Rebels at Work, co- author. We'll talk a little bit about that, as well, in this session, because I think it is highly pertinent and relevant, not just to intelligence work, but to anyone working anywhere. But I've got a particular interest in that. So, we'll come on to that in this session. Carmen, welcome. Thanks for joining me.

Carmen Medina: Thank you, Terry, for having me.

Terry Pattar: No problem. I've been really looking forward to actually talking to you for quite a while. The article that you published recently with Zachery Tyson Brown in Foreign Affairs gave me a useful excuse, in some ways, to contact you and say, " Hey, would you be willing to come on and talk about this in the podcast?" For anyone who hasn't read it, the article was about the use of, I guess, increasing open- source information within the intelligence world. The title was The Declining Market For Secrets. It was touching on a number of points, which a lot of us working in this field have been talking about for a number of years. I was really impressed by how you summarized those, and really highlighted where we are currently. Maybe you can give a quick summary of some of the points you raised, because I think they're really pertinent.

Carmen Medina: So, the fact that I wrote it with Zach Tyson Brown is important because we got to know each other when he found an article I had written 20 years ago on the coming revolution in intelligence affairs, and thought, " Oh, my God! I could have written this today!"

Terry Pattar: Yes.

Carmen Medina: That's how we became linked with each other. I was sad that the issues that were identified in that article 20 years ago are still seen as problems by young people in intelligence work now. So, I think we made two fundamental points. We made the point about open- source, that there's this explosion sensors and digital information that allows us to get answers for problems in really different ways than when I grew up, that secrets no longer have a monopoly on knowledge, and that, in fact, a lot of what we do collecting secrets... A lot of the information we collect using secret methods can be collected now using open- source methods. There's been an explosion in these companies. You say that Janes has been in this business a very long time. A lot of them are in this data- as- a- service new sector, new domain. That's one point we made. The other point we made that, frankly, gets lost a little bit, because people focus on the open- source part, is that policymakers need to access information in convenient ways. In fact, all people, business people, everyone needs to access information in a convenient way. The intelligence community, because of its formal, hierarchical way of producing intelligence, and because of its concerns about secrecy, can't figure out how to delivery, let's say, lower classification intelligence findings over someone's smartphone. If I were a policymaker, I would like to receive a text if something really important had happened and I needed to know immediately. But we can't figure out how to do that, while open- source intelligence and information providers, they compete over how conveniently they can provide their information to their consumers. Right? So, those are the two major points that we make, that we no longer have a monopoly on information, and we are going to lose our customers if we continue to support them in these antiquated ways. We propose a very simple starting point, and this gets to the Rebels at Work part of my history, a lot of reform efforts, not many, most reform efforts suffer from over- engineering. People feel like they have to figure out exactly how this new system will work, when, in fact, if it's complex in any way, nobody could figure out exactly how it will work best. You have to allow it to develop organically. So, our proposal is let the DNI create a platform using modern, best- of- breed user interface. At first, it could just be for official- use- only information, but over time, you can grow in confidence and figure out secure ways of sharing less sensitive information. Let's figure out how we can have a modern way of communicating between policymakers and intelligence officers. That's as far as we go. We don't prescribe any other details because we figure, like any other good, digital platform, it will evolve as the network of users figures out how best to use it. I think that if this is successful, 10 years from now, people, having used this platform, will realize we need less secret collection, and the overall intelligence community structure will be rationalized to fit better the modern era that we're living in.

Terry Pattar: It's so interesting, actually. I didn't realize that the genesis of the article, that Zach had come across the article you wrote 20 years ago. Was it the one, What To Do When Traditional Models Fail?

Carmen Medina: Yes. That's right.

Terry Pattar: Yeah. So, I was rereading that recently, because it's available online for anyone who wants to find it.

Carmen Medina: Yeah. It is.

Terry Pattar: You wrote while you were still with the CIA. Right?

Carmen Medina: Yes. In fact, I wrote it... often misunderstood. I wrote it before 9/ 11, but because of the publication cycle, it appeared, I think, almost immediately after 9/ 11. So, people think the two are connected, but they're not.

Terry Pattar: Right. But you hit on so many points which are still so pertinent. Like you mentioned, it could have been written now, in the sense that you talk about the coming revolution in intelligence. Over that 20 year period, do you think that change has happened at all, or is it still to happen? Is that revolution still coming?

Carmen Medina: I think not enough change has happened. Some has occurred, but nowhere near enough. I won't name names, but after the Foreign Affairs article was published, I heard from a handful of very senior former intelligence officers, names that all of your listeners would recognize, saying things like, " This is the article I've been meaning to write for the last 20 years." I'm scratching my head a little bit, going, " Well, these individuals were more powerful, more senior than I was. So, why didn't they write these articles?" You'd have to ask them. But there just hasn't been anywhere near enough change. There has been just this general disdain of open- source, and it still continues. Not all intelligence officers view it that way, but there's still way too many that do. It was reflected in a lot of the comments we received on social media. But I think an even harder nut to crack is this inability to join the mobile revolution, and figure out how to provide information to customers on all sorts of devices, so that you're not required to go to a secret compartment, or secure compartment, at Intelligence Facility to read a one paragraph report. It boggles the imagination that anybody in the intelligence community leadership still thinks that's a viable model.

Terry Pattar: Mm- hmm( affirmative).

Carmen Medina: And yet, they do. And of course, this has bit them during the pandemic, where their workforce, for many months, was unable to come into the office, or large parts of it were not able to come into the office. Policymakers were working from home, whenever possible. I don't work in the intelligence community now, so I don't know exactly how this all played out, but I don't think it played out well. I think that there were a lot of disconnects, missed opportunities to experiment with new models, and I worry that as their customers become more accustomed to doing without the intelligence community, that they won't come back. It's a lot like a lot of businesses feel during the pandemic. Right? That people have gotten used to not having to deal with us. So, they may never return.

Terry Pattar: I guess it's like people getting used to getting food delivered rather than going out to restaurants.

Carmen Medina: Exactly. Yeah.

Terry Pattar: Yeah. I mean, it struck me, as well, reading both those articles together, that there's still this... You highlight it, certainly, in one, if not both, articles. There's still an obsession with finished products.

Carmen Medina: Yes. Yes.

Terry Pattar: Getting those finished reports rather than having those ever- evolving dashboards or portals.

Carmen Medina: Exactly.

Terry Pattar: However they're set up.

Carmen Medina: More conversations. In this, I was very... I was cognizant of this in 2004, 2005, when I was a Senior Analytic Director at CIA. This was before social media, but I just kept struggling with this idea that our product needs to still remain authoritative, but it needs to become more informal. It needs to be less hierarchical. I was always striving for a way to reduce the burden of the editorial quality control process, which if you think about it, that process puts a stop to sense making. Right? You stop everything, and you wait for the editor to bless the product. My goal was always to achieve quality without editing. Was there a way to achieve quality without an editorial process? Well, now, in a community of experts, I think there is a way to achieve quality without editing, because as they engage in conversations, some ideas will survive. Others won't. I think that will get the customer what they need in terms of findings. I also think there's this... In addition to finished intelligence, or associated with this, is this obsession on length, on, " We have to write several paragraphs on this," or an analyst, to prove their metal, has to be able to write a 10 page paper. Even 15 years ago, I was asking myself, " Well, why?" If a policymaker asks you a question, and the answer is, " No. Not really," why can't you just say, " No. Not really?" I mean, it's a little bit of a farfetched point, but we are forcing ourselves, because of our strange incentives and rewards systems, to write pointless paragraphs, when a simple one or two sentences answer could suffice.

Terry Pattar: Yeah. Don't you find for a lot of customers, people especially at the more senior levels, that actually, they would really appreciate something shorter? I know there is that sometimes it's almost quicker and easier to write something longer.

Carmen Medina: Yes.

Terry Pattar: Editing down thoughts does take time itself. Making something that is easier for customers to digest, there is an art to that, as well. But ultimately, it's so much more worthwhile, if you're giving them something which is more impactful. I'm still somewhat surprised, actually, that hasn't, in itself, led to a change.

Carmen Medina: Right.

Terry Pattar: The customer demand hasn't forced that change in the last 20 years.

Carmen Medina: Part of it, I think... I may be wrong here, but I'll offer it up anyway. I think there's something conservative about the national security establishment that makes them less sensitive to modern trends. The people who aspire to careers in the national security field, I think there's something naturally conservative about them. Conservative small C. Maybe traditionalist is a different word.

Terry Pattar: So, you mean having a natural resistance to change?

Carmen Medina: A natural resistance to change, and a natural resistance to some of these characteristics of the modern age. So, I think if you cut your teeth writing a 200 page PhD on the prospects for the Chinese Communist Party, you're just always going to value, perhaps, that style of work. I mean, I may be wrong. It's interesting that, I think, both the Secretary of State under Biden and the CIA Director are both men who have had 40 year careers in national security. So, I'm still waiting for the young whipper snapper to thrive in the intelligence community, who will demand a totally different kind of support, and that just hasn't happened yet.

Terry Pattar: I guess some things have moved on, in terms of from what we know about, for example, the president's daily brief. I think that changed quite a bit under President Obama, from what I understand. It was a more dynamic deliverable, and on an iPad rather than on a written document.

Carmen Medina: Right. Right.

Terry Pattar: And with more graphics, et cetera, and more interactivity. I guess things are moving on in the sense that customer expectations are changing because they're being reshaped by what they're seeing. Like you mentioned before, by what they're seeing from other providers, or what they're seeing even from news sites.

Carmen Medina: Yes.

Terry Pattar: You see more interactive content these days that news websites are publishing. I think, actually, there is a definite lesson that can be learned within the intelligence communities from the way news output has changed and shifted. I mean, there are some things we shouldn't learn, but there are some things that, I think, definitely...

Carmen Medina: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Terry Pattar: That we can adopt.

Carmen Medina: We also have to be humble and realize that all of these quality control measures that we have had, and this formal process that we've employed, hasn't eliminated intelligence blenders. Right? You can produce tragically wrong slide decks or intelligence estimates on any number of issues, and God knows, we have. So, I just think that we have to divorce quality control from this formal process and explore other ways of doing it. In fact, I don't know about you, but I find that I am most stimulated intellectually by a good debate. Not by consensus, but by a good debate.

Terry Pattar: Yeah.

Carmen Medina: I think that's another thing that we mask in the intelligence process for the sake of, " Well, this is our official finding." That would drive me nuts. If I can put an aside here, one of the things, the crown jewel in the intelligence process is the national estimate. These estimates are coordinated among agencies. So, every agency has a seat at the table. It struck me that that was foolish. Why should the agencies be the denominator of differing intelligence perspectives on an issue? What that does is if there's a strong minority view but it never becomes the majority view, in any one agency, then it never gets fully expressed at the coordination table because it's done by agency. As an example, that is something that desperately needs to be rethought. The process that the intelligence community uses today doesn't really support quality, the way they think they do. As you can tell, I am a total heretic on almost all of these issues.

Terry Pattar: I find myself nodding in agreement because I've seen the same issues. I mean, you were, obviously, describing for your experience in the US, but we see the same issues elsewhere. In my role at Janes, we work with clients in countries all around the world. The same dynamics exist in the sense that in particular, too, I guess are almost contradictory in the sense that customers at senior levels want things which are short, easy to consume, quick for them to understand, which they can read instead of getting their information from the news. At the same time, when people within the intelligence units and teams, et cetera, are trying to work out, " Well, how do we get on top of open- source information," there's this obsession with trying to collect everything and read everything.

Carmen Medina: Right. Right.

Terry Pattar: Instead of thinking about, " Okay, well, actually, let's be more targeted, more selective."

Carmen Medina: Exactly.

Terry Pattar: How do we crunch all that down? Then thinking about the analysis aspect, which, I think, is almost completely lost when people talk about open- source intelligence.

Carmen Medina: Right.

Terry Pattar: Often, all people are talking about is information, not intelligence. Actually, it would be great to get your thoughts on this. My perception has been, in the last 20 years, that I think people have lost sight a little bit of the analytical aspect.

Carmen Medina: Yes.

Terry Pattar: Some of the things you described there, that element of debate, and getting different perspectives in favor of, " Well, here's all the information. Here you go."

Carmen Medina: Right. Right. I'll answer that, or comment on it, through a little story. What opened my eyes toward the potential of open- source information was more than 20 years ago, I read a book called The Hitler Myth by Ian Kershaw, I think his name is, a historian. In the book, he took all these, what he called, myths or legends about Adolf Hitler, and evaluated whether they were true or not. One of them was that the German people were bitter enders, that they supported Hitler until the very end, no matter the level of destruction. So, to answer that question, what he did was, or what he presented in his book was an analysis of obituary notices of fallen soldiers in the Munich newspaper. In 1939, the obituaries, 99% of them said that the soldier had died for their fuhrer. By 1944, when the newspaper or the government made it mandatory that all obituaries say that, the percentage had fallen to single digits. Now, I was blown away by that. I was blown away mostly by how did he get that analytic hunch? How did he go there? That is a tremendous example of what analysis is. Right? You have to interrogate the data and ask it really important questions. An example of what the intelligence community would never have thought of doing. I thought of all the questions you could ask about Iran, or China, or Russia that might be answered by similarly interesting methods of analyzing a non- obvious data source, a non- obviously relevant data source. Right? I realized that we had just totally lost... We were totally lost in this area. I think a lot of the companies that have emerged recently, that are data- as- a- service, actually have as their business model this idea that, " You ask us a question, and we will go find you some interesting data." It might not be the direct correlating data, but it, nevertheless, will provide you an answer. Right?

Terry Pattar: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Carmen Medina: Open- source is not reading a lot. Open- source is understanding patterns and indicators that provide you with answers on questions that you care about.

Terry Pattar: Exactly. I couldn't put that better myself. That's exactly how I would view it. I think that does get lost. I think that people do become a bit obsessed about just collecting lots of information, hoping that the answer's in there somewhere.

Carmen Medina: Right.

Terry Pattar: I think it's because of that ease of collecting these days. There is so much information out there. We hear information being compared to oil, and the value of information being so high and these kinds of things. I think, " Well, it doesn't make sense because you can't duplicate oil."

Carmen Medina: That's right.

Terry Pattar: Once you've used it, you've used it.

Carmen Medina: Yeah. Right.

Terry Pattar: Information is different. It is valuable, but in a different way.

Carmen Medina: Yeah.

Terry Pattar: I think people don't quite understand it fully yet, or how to use it in the best way possible. I wanted to also touch on another point you raised. Again, this comes back to that idea of how to analyze information and how to produce best analysis, which I think you made it in the article you wrote 20 years ago, what to do when traditional models fail, where you touched on a point about diversity.

Carmen Medina: Yes.

Terry Pattar: I think this has cropped up in some of your other writing since then, in terms of... It's something that I've been asked about by former colleagues, and something I've discussed. I think I had the same point that you made, which is it's not about diversity of people in terms of background or where they're from, et cetera. It's really about diversity of thinking. But then I think more recently, you said, actually, the two things are definitely linked.

Carmen Medina: Mm- hmm( affirmative). They are linked. For the longest time, I never thought of myself as a Hispanic or Latina analyst. This was never a formulation that I had about myself. In the 1980s, when I was working on South Africa, I ended up being much more sensitive to the possibility that the apartheid system could end sooner rather than later. I was in a minority view for a couple of years until a boss of mine actually went to South Africa and made his own evaluation, and decided that maybe I was right, that apartheid was crumbling. In his memo, I think to Bob Gates, as I recall... That's who he wrote the memo to. He wrote, " Why did I not see this the way Carmen did, as early as Carmen did?" He goes, " Maybe it's because I'm not Puerto Rican." I was like, " Oh, my God!" That was the furthest thing from my mind! Right?

Terry Pattar: Yeah.

Carmen Medina: My conscious mind.

Terry Pattar: Right.

Carmen Medina: I was like, " Oh, okay." For a while, I had a little placard in front of my desk, Puerto Rican Analysis. I just thought it was so goofy. But now I think, in retrospect, there is something about my upbringing, my experience, and all of our upbringings and all of our experiences, that biases, in one way or another, you value some information more than other information, and to think about some issues more than other issues. This is inevitable. They're not the same thing. You can have diversity of thought without ethnic or legacy diversity.

Terry Pattar: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Carmen Medina: In fact, an interesting phenomenon in the United States that I read about is that there's a lot of adoption. Maybe not so much now, but 20 years ago, many, for example, Korean children, or Chinese children, were adopted by American parents. Now these kids are going to college, and they may be seen as having some Asian diversity, but the kids are saying, " I grew up in Nebraska."

Terry Pattar: Right.

Carmen Medina: "My parents' last name was Robinson, and I know nothing about Asia." Right? " Despite what I look." There's another complexity to it. But I do think that they're related. I wish that there was a good way of measuring thinking styles. I think that everyone in the composition of teams, analytic teams, could benefit from a reliable, non- judgmental assessment of people's different thinking styles. I'm not a very good detail person. I know I'm not. I tend to default toward optimism. I know that, as well. Those are gaps in my thinking style. So, one of my favorite thinking buddies is an Eeyore of epic proportions, and that makes for really good conversations. We help each other. To my knowledge, there isn't a good tool to use, in a non- judgmental way, to assess thinking styles, because they're all equally useful. They're all equally useful and yet, probably also, they vary in utility based on the scenario. Right? So, if you wanted to do some exploration of alternative futures for China, or Brazil, or some country like that, you need a different set of thinking qualities than if you're looking at the way that COVID is going to spread across the world, for example.

Terry Pattar: Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Carmen Medina: So, I think that, still, an area that needs a lot of work on is this ability to deploy diversity of thought in an optimum way to solve analytic challenges. To my knowledge, we don't know much of anything about that. When I talk to my friends who are in talent management or human resources, I always say, " That's the future of this field." Whoever figures this out in a valuable way, you are going to have just this golden asset that you will be providing companies and governments and organizations. If any of your listeners know of anyone who does something like that, and does it well, let me know.

Terry Pattar: That's really interesting. So, yeah. I've worked with an old colleague, who is a consultant for us, who specializes a little bit in that area, but I think even he would say it's a really difficult field to determine people's thinking styles. Then to actually act upon that. Even if you are able to assess people, to figure out, " Okay, we've got a pool of candidates here, who are all thinking in slightly different ways, et cetera," or you've got a pool of people within an organization actually selecting to put together a team that functions, that gives you all of those best attributes that you want together. For example, you can say, " Okay, well, let's pair up an optimist with a pessimist," and you'll get them, hopefully, balancing each other out in their assessments. But I think it's really difficult for organizations to then actually, with their resources, to be able to create teams in that way. That's probably the next challenge.

Carmen Medina: Yeah. Right. The only hints that we seem to have is in retrospect, where someone is writing about a team that accomplished something excellent, and then the story, the anecdote, will be told, and Susie really brought this to the table, and Joe brought that to the table, and Ali brought something else to the table. Together, now we know, in hindsight, it led to a beautiful outcome. But we don't really have any useful knowledge about it before the fact. Maybe this is something that artificial intelligence will be able to help us with.

Terry Pattar: Yeah.

Carmen Medina: Maybe over time, you can calibrate artificial intelligence to have a different bias. You can play around with different artificial intelligence units, who have a different theory about how they're going to evaluate information. See what happens.

Terry Pattar: Yeah. That could be interesting. Definitely. I'm also envisioning, in terms of the portal that you described before, and you mentioned the article with Zach in Foreign Affairs that you've got a portal for intelligence that people, consumers, would go to. I'm almost thinking in there you would need to incorporate a way to have differing viewpoints.

Carmen Medina: Yes! Absolutely!

Terry Pattar: Differing analysis on a subject, and have the consumer make up their mind. Which are they leaning more towards, et cetera? Then that leads me on to wanting to ask you about the next part, which I touched on at the start, which is about what you've written under the Rebels at Work banner.

Carmen Medina: Right. Right.

Terry Pattar: Where it's really difficult, I think, in any organization, intelligence or otherwise, anywhere where you've gotten analysts giving their thoughts on a subject to elicit those different viewpoints, to give people the space, I guess, to put out different ideas. So, it would be great to get your thoughts on that. Maybe for those readers, or for those listeners, who aren't familiar with Rebels at Work, for you to describe a little bit about that, and how that came about, and what you're trying to promote through that initiative.

Carmen Medina: Yeah. Well, thanks for the opportunity. So, I ended up being, as listeners have already determined, a heretic at CIA, although I didn't know that's what I was. What really brought it to a head was the internet revolution. So, by the mid 1990s, I personally was persuaded the internet was going to change everything for knowledge companies. Everything! I mean, I bored my friends. I was obsessed with this issue. I kept telling the CIA... By then, I was a mid- level person there. I kept saying, " We're going to have to adapt." What I didn't realize, stupidly, was that the internet, the theological nature of the change I was proposing... The internet, then, was very kumbaya, sharing information, information is free, yada, yada, yada. That's not what the CIA ever was about. The CIA was inaudible. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but as I reflected on it, I understood that when you, as an individual, are trying to make change in an organization, or present a minority, a different view, if it's theological in nature, by which I mean that it is akimbo to the prevailing orthodoxy of the organization, you're going to have to be a really clever person to advance those ideas without ruining your own career. That's a bottom line thing for Rebels at Work. So, when I retired in 2010, I was just speaking about my experience at CIA, which was so strong for me, this frustration at arguing proposing something that was so obviously true, and yet, find no one receptive to the idea. Lois Kelly, my co- author, heard me talk about it once and said, " Why doesn't anybody help?" She came up with the phrase, the Rebels at Work. That's how we began our collaboration, a very informal and yet, quite fruitful collaboration. I think the first part of your question was how do you advance different views, or make it easier for people with opposing views to express their opinions? I think I was really blessed to work on South Africa in the 1980s. I was an analyst on South Africa, and then I was the chief of a 10 person team, more or less. We had a very great team of analysts. Many of them ended up being quite senior officers at CIA. So, this was an all star team. It was incredibly divided on the future of South Africa. So, there were some... It's hard to think about this, but back then, some people thought the whites would never give up, and that South Africa would only... Apartheid would only end as the result of a bloody civil. A minority, frankly, thought that you could have peaceful change. I had to manage that. One of the things I learned, by the way, was that optimism and pessimism played a role in that, that the people who were optimists by nature on anything tended to be optimistic on South Africa. The ones who were pessimists on nature and conservative by nature on everything tended to be pessimistic about South Africa. That's when I first began to realize that there's no way anybody could be unbiased and objective, because we all bring some essential nature, some essential outlook that we have on life to the work we do professionally. It's unavoidable. Perhaps, AI will solve that. But I have my doubts, actually. In the book Rebels at Work... We have a blog site and a Twitter community. We're basically gathering best practices for both managers and individuals, the managers who are interested in creating a community, creating an atmosphere in their team where people feel free to speak their mind. For the individual employee, how do you speak your mind more productively? What are the mistakes to avoid, and what are the best practices for being a more effective advocate of minority opinions? I think this is a skill that is just not taught very much in the modern business environment. Managers are rewarded to execute, and they're not really rewarded to cultivate differing opinions. In fact, even saying that makes it sound a little funny. Right?

Terry Pattar: Yeah.

Carmen Medina: Individuals are taught to be an excellent employee. I don't think there are too many companies that have a whole module and orientation around what to do when you think the company is doing something horrible. I just don't think people are taught that.

Terry Pattar: Yeah.

Carmen Medina: Yet, in an increasingly complex world, that knowledge and those skills become more valuable. So, that's what we do with Rebels at Work. It's something that resonates with people. So, that's why we do it.

Terry Pattar: I've definitely found that. I mean, I came across your work a few years ago, and it really resonated with me because what you describe in the work also is that there's a good way to be a rebel.

Carmen Medina: Yes.

Terry Pattar: And there's also a bad way. I think crosstalk

Carmen Medina: It's a continuum!

Terry Pattar: Right.

Carmen Medina: It's a continuum. It's not black and white. Right?

Terry Pattar: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. But there's probably more constructive ways and less constructive ways.

Carmen Medina: Exactly.

Terry Pattar: That's a better way to describe it.

Carmen Medina: Yes.

Terry Pattar: I think I definitely have found, from experience, that unless somebody guides you in that, it's really easy to fall into that trap of not being very constructive in the way you rebel against issues you see at work, et cetera. So, what advice would you have to, especially, I think, like you said, the people coming into their careers, in the early part of their careers? Because I think it almost needs to be framed at an early stage.

Carmen Medina: Right.

Terry Pattar: When you first enter organizations, that's probably when you're most open to identifying those issues that people who have been there a while may not see. What advice would you give, or for me, as a manager, could I give to people who I'm recruiting or advising, who are early in their analytical careers, et cetera? How can they be constructive rebels?

Carmen Medina: Right. I know that, at my point in my careers, what remains of it, that probably my ideas might come across as a little conservative compared to Generation Z entering the workforce. But I do think, just in the spirit of someone starting out, I think it's important to... I know you're going to make a lot of observations, and I know that it's going to be clear to you how things could be better if we did things differently. But I think it is important to establish your own status as a contributor to the mission before you start suggesting all the ways things could be done better.

Terry Pattar: Mm- hmm(affirmative).

Carmen Medina: Adam Grant, in his book, Originals, profiled me, my efforts as a CIA heretic. That's one of the points that he makes, that the first time I tried to do it, I didn't have any status. So, I didn't have any credibility. You have to, as an individual, establish some credibility. Now, there's a phrase that old school managers use a lot that I don't think is very effective, this phrase that people have to pay their dues. That's a phrase, I think, managers, to talk about them, need to avoid. Because what does that mean anymore? How has the modern environment even changed the concept of paying your dues? Right? When I started work, literally, I had to acquire all my knowledge in an analog way. I could read a book, maybe, but I learned to operate successfully at the CIA by watching other people operating successfully at the CIA. That's not the case now. There's all these websites, and there's all this knowledge. If you are a serious person, you can learn a lot about where you're going to be working, and have that knowledge in your back pocket before you enter. So, this paying their dues concept, which you hear managers use, I think everyone should just excise that phrase from their vocabulary. I think that for the individual... I'll just say two more things. For the individual, you need to socialize your ideas with others on the team before you start bringing it to the attention of management. If you can't get anybody to support your ideas, it may not be because they're not listening to you, or don't recognize your brilliance. It may be because your idea's not ready for primetime. There is nothing so weak as an idea whose time has not yet come. It may eventually be correct, but it's just not the time for it yet. I think managers need to be authentically open to other people's ideas, and not just go through the motions. Authentic, that's such a horrible, trite word. I'll illustrate it by giving you a phrase that managers love to use. " I have an open door policy." If you actually have an open door policy, you never need to say that to anyone, because it is just known. Right? So, I like to say that a manager who says they have an open door policy doesn't have an open door policy. In fact, what does it mean when you say, " I have an open door policy?" You're telling the employee that the employee has to come to you to present their ideas. Enter your office, enter that alter to your excellence. Right? Just from a psychological perspective, you're putting yourself in the more superior position, and they are in the lesser position. I have a whole list of things like that, that I could bore your listeners with, of things that managers say that are the opposite, that have the opposite intent of what they think.

Terry Pattar: Right.

Carmen Medina: But that's the one I like to point out.

Terry Pattar: Great advice. One thing I would say, from my experience, as well, on that point you made about socializing your ideas, I've found it's really beneficial to almost do that one- on- one.

Carmen Medina: Oh, absolutely!

Terry Pattar: Talk to other people one- on- one.

Carmen Medina: Right.

Terry Pattar: Don't try and float an idea in front of an entire group at the outset. Talk to other people one- on- one.

Carmen Medina: Exactly.

Terry Pattar: Get people on board. Then take it, as you said, to that bigger crosstalk audience.

Carmen Medina: Embarrass people. That's one of my big lessons in life. At all cost, avoid making anybody feel embarrassed.

Terry Pattar: Yeah. Definitely. I think I genuinely wish I benefited from that work when I was earlier in my career. I probably could have avoided a moment which one of my former colleagues, I think, described it well when he said there was a moment when my career became a job.

Carmen Medina: Ah, yeah.

Terry Pattar: Because you can end up speaking out in the wrong way.

Carmen Medina: Yes.

Terry Pattar: We've probably all done that at some point. I'd love to have, or encourage, young analysts to look at your work, and understand the Rebels at Work concept, as well. Because I think it'd really benefit them and help them avoid being less constructive rebels.

Carmen Medina: Right. Right.

Terry Pattar: Actually, I think for intelligence people, people working in intelligence roles, in particular... I know your advice really covers anybody working in any organization, but I think within the intelligence community, it's more necessary than anywhere.

Carmen Medina: Yes. Absolutely. It's absolutely critical.

Terry Pattar: Because we do need diversity of viewpoint that we talked about before. Yeah.

Carmen Medina: Right.

Terry Pattar: This has been a really fascinating discussion. I could probably talk to you, Carmen, for hours and hours. Hopefully, we'll get to meet in person at some point and continue the conversation.

Carmen Medina: Yeah. Yeah. Before the pandemic, I came through England a couple of times a year. I lived there for three years.

Terry Pattar: Oh, fantastic.

Carmen Medina: So, it's like another home for me.

Terry Pattar: Oh, it would be great to see you here, and yeah, definitely to talk about these things in person. But this has been a great discussion, and great to get your thoughts. I really want to point our listeners towards all of the resources that you mentioned, the articles that you've written that are available online, some of the talks you've given, TEDx talks, et cetera, which are online, as well, and your recent article with Zach Tyson Brown in Foreign Affairs, as well as the Rebels at Work book. I think you've had one that came out recently, which I think was a compilation of some of the blog posts.

Carmen Medina: Yes. Right. It's basically a distillation of the best of our books. Yes.

Terry Pattar: Which is definitely worth a read. I was going through some of that recently. Yeah. Really, really useful stuff that you can pick up out of there, I think, for anyone working anywhere. But as I said, particularly within the intelligence field. So, thanks so much for your time.

Carmen Medina: Thank you, Terry.

Terry Pattar: I hope we get to talk again.

Carmen Medina: Cheers.


In this episode of the Janes podcast Terry Pattar discusses strategic thinking, diversity of thought and innovation with Carmen Medina, co-author of the book Rebels At Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within.

Today's Host

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Harry Kemsley

|President of Government & National Security, Janes

Today's Guests

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Carmen Medina

|Co-author Rebels at Work