Decision Advantage: Why Intelligence Matters – Forward Observer Shop

Decision Advantage: Why Intelligence Matters

Several years ago, I had the great opportunity to train at an elite facility in the Carolinas.  Throughout the training sessions, our instructor spoke of the ‘psychological advantages’ of why and how we do things in a gunfight.  The goal of these courses wasn’t just to produce individuals who can shoot, but to graduate individuals who can think and shoot — in other words, to teach people to make sound decisions in a high stress environment like a gunfight.

Close your eyes and put yourself momentarily in a gunfight; it doesn’t matter if you choose an active shooter situation at your work or you wind up on some side street in Baghdad.  What goes through your mind as you realize someone is shooting at you?  Your brain is trying to process very quickly lots of different operations, which is why most people freeze in a situation like this.  Overwhelmed by this massive problem it’s never seen before, the brain just shuts down.  It doesn’t know what to do or how to respond.  It’s not fight or flight — it’s fight, flight, or freeze.  Humans are generally good at solving problems that we’ve solved before, but relatively few are good at solving problems they’ve never encountered.  This is why we train.

Now let’s take this same concept — that access to information helps you to maintain situational awareness and make better decisions — and move it up one level.  Aside from a beating heart, the brain is the most important part of you, and the brain is the most important part of an organization.  A preparedness group, a community security team, or neighborhood watch needs a brain; a command center where information is received and intelligence is produced.  Just like we can’t make sound decisions in a firefight without access to information, we can’t make sound decisions for our security as a family, group, or community without similar access to information.  You’d never go into a firefight wearing a blindfold, so why would anyone go into an emergency situation without knowing how to collect timely intelligence information?  It seems like a very rudimentary concept — that navigating a complex threat environment requires the ability to gather tactical intelligence on what’s going on beyond your line of sight — yet many Americans are prepared to stay blindfolded.

Let’s go back to an infrequent but still likely scenario — there’s civil unrest following a natural disaster.  Think Hurricane Katrina.  There’s no power, no public utilities, catastrophic damage, and lots of needy people, many of whom are out looking for targets of opportunity.  If we’re interested in the security of our family and/or community then we need to gather intelligence beyond your line of sight and hearing ability; anything less and we should consider ourselves blindfolded, which would be a mistake of our own doing.

I’d hate to beat a dead horse like the OODA Loop, but it does bear repeating.  The OODA Loop concept was developed by Col. John Boyd (USAF, Ret.), a fighter pilot interested in how his pilots could make better and faster decisions while in a dog fight.  OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, and it describes the process by which humans make decisions.  (Observing in this case is really a misnomer.  We need to be observing, listening, and sensing.  We also need to ensure that we’re connected with others who are also observing, listening, and sensing.  For a tutorial, see A Primer on Tactical Intelligence Collection.)  The ultimate goal today — that goes doubly for combat shooters — is how to speed up our own OODA Loops while disrupting the enemy’s OODA, thus slowing down his decision-making process.  In the case of intelligence, what we’re achieving by speeding up our OODA Loop is a ‘decision advantage’ for our commander or decision makers.

The faster we can observe a new development in the battlespace or community, and the faster we can orient ourselves to its intent, capabilities, or significance; the greater ‘decision advantage’ we can create for our organization.  This decision advantage greatly impacts the success of operations because better and faster decisions overwhelm an enemy force.  Simultaneously, the enemy’s OODA Loop is disrupted, which prevents him from making his own decisions in a timely manner.  The end result is that our organization can act with impunity, carrying out operations very rapidly and exploiting enemy vulnerabilities before he can recognize that he’s being exploited.  In turn, this can minimize the risk posed to operators because they’re hitting softer targets where the enemy may be unprepared.  This is generally referred to as ‘gaining the initiative’ in battle, where we dictate the flow of operations and the enemy reacts, as opposed to the other way around.  Action beats reaction nine times out of ten, which is why we want to control the battle, we choose when and where to attack, and the enemy is playing defense, very poorly by design because we’re slowing down his decision-making process (OODA).

Without the ability to observe and orient — in other words, without the ability to gather information and analyze it to produce intelligence — there is no decision advantage.  In a natural disaster or protracted emergency or conflict, we’ll likely be faced with decision points.  Some of them will be time-sensitive, in that we must make a decision now.  There’s no time for debate, there’s no time for analysis, we choose a course of action and execute.  Without intelligence, we’re forced to make decisions.  The Decision Advantage, being equipped with intelligence, means that we’re making well-informed decisions.  We know the consequences of our decisions.  We understand their second- and third-order effects, and can make the decision that best benefits us.  Having the Decision Advantage allows us to make better decisions than those around us, and its why this advantage is so unique.


To learn more…

A Primer on Tactical Intelligence Collection

Five Intelligence Essentials for Community Security

On War: Understanding the Importance of Doctrine





Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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