The HEAD Game: A book review by Bob Morris

HEAD GameThe HEAD Game: High-Efficiency Analytic Decision Making and the Art of Solving Complex Problems Quickly
Philip Mudd
Liveright Publishing Company/A Division of W.W. Norton & Company (2015)

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Aristotle

Given his background as director of the CIA Counterterrorist Center and FBI National Security Branch, Philip Mudd seems to be uniquely well-qualified to explain “high-efficiency analytic decision-making [i.e. HEAD] and the art of solving complex problems more quickly.” The strategies and tactics he discusses can help leaders in almost any organization – whatever its size and nature may be — to consider questions such as these that are, obviously, far easier to ask than to answer:

“What is the question that must be answered”?
“What is the problem that must be solved?”
“What do we want this answer or solution to achieve?”
“What are the drivers of this process?”
“How will progress be measured?”
“What do we need to know?”
“Most reliable sources of information?”
“Verification of data?”
“Traps to avoid?”

As I worked my way through the narrative, I was again reminded of the process that resulted in the “Camp David Accords” in 1978. After twelve days of secret negotiations at Camp David, Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed two framework agreements at the White House, witnessed by President Jimmy Carter. When asked how, after thousands of years of bloody warfare, the two nations could reach the historic agreements, Prime Minister Begin replied, “We did what all wise men would do. We began at the end.

Time and again, Mudd stresses that point. It is one of the core principles of the HEAD process. Moreover, he correctly advises his reader that mastering that process will take time and patience as well as persistence. “Just as the greatest pain that punishes your body comes when you first start down the road to fitness and a healthier life, the worst part of exercising your mind using this analytic process will come at the outset, and you will be tempted to get off the mental treadmill when you start reading this book, because the mental exercise hurts.” With diligent exercise of the principles, however, “your mind will become more agile over time, and this process will become second nature. You may even find that you enjoy it. Just not at first.”

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Mudd’s coverage:

o Creating Decision Advantage (Pages 1-10)
o Thinking About Bias: The Analyst and the Decision Maker (13-17)
o The Tragedy of Somalia: What Should the Question Be? (33-38)
o Avoiding the Certainty Trap: The Deceptiveness of Yes/No Questions (45-47)
o Reducing Complexity: The Advantage of Driver-Based Analysis (64-71)
o Analytic Arguments: Reducing Complexity with Drivers (72-75)
o Assessing Data: Assigning Confidence Grades to Driver Baskets (116-119)
o A Case Study in Colors: Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and the No-Fly Zones (123-128)
o How to use the red-yellow-green approach to avoid traps (136-137)
o Anomaly Analysis: How to Use Discordant Data (141-145)
o Red Team Analysis and Alternative Thinking (145-149)
o Availability Bias (178-182)
o Sampling Bias and Anecdote Bias (182-186)
o Halo Effect (188-191)
o Four Biases: Superiority, Anchoring, Variable, and Predictive (191-195)
o Three Biases: Confirmation, Reasonable-Man, and Reverting-to-the-Mean (198-205)
o (Appendix B) Summing Up: A Practitioner’s Checklist (207-214)

This is a relatively easy read because Philip Mudd has done such a brilliant job of organizing and then presenting his material. His thinking is as sharp as his writing is clear. He provides a wealth of real-world situations that illustrate various dos and don’ts when using high-efficiency analytic decision-making in order to solve complex problems more quickly. However, as indicated, mastering the principles of the HEAD process will, initially, be challenging and probably frustrating for a time. That is why I urge everyone who reads this book to read it again, then frequently review key passages that have been highlighted.

In my opinion, leaders who master the HEAD process will gain for their organization a significant, perhaps even decisive competitive advantage. They will also gain a significant competitive advantage in their professional career.

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