In his article, “The Fox and the Hedgehog: Contracting Approaches to Anticipating the Environment,” Dr. Randy Borum talks the type of professionals who will be well prepared to deal with the violent, uncertain, complex and ambiguous conditions that characterize our current and future security environment.
Navigating the contemporary environment requires a different mindset than was needed during the Cold War. Leaders most likely to succeed are those who embrace uncertainty, are highly adaptive, constantly learning, and know how to maneuver incrementally and with agility. [i]
Dr. Borum’s article, which you can find here, talks about how our next generation of leaders and strategists in security related fields need to be adaptive and need to be able to function effectively in the dynamic and ever-changing situations that will likely characterize the future global security environment. Dr. Borum refers to the type of leader capable of not only embracing uncertainty, but also being able to maneuver incrementally and with agility within it, as foxes. He contrasts the characteristics of the fox with those of the hedgehog, a leader who only has one response to potential threats and is unable to adjust their approach as the situation faces. I happen to agree with Dr. Borum’s perspective. With my experiences as a Marine and how I assess the current challenge faced by America’s police officers and security providers, I believe that the professionals who are able to excel in ambiguity are the ones who will quickly prove their value to their organization.
Embracing uncertainty, however, doesn’t mean that we will avoid attempts to see through the “fog of war.” It means that by acknowledging the presence of uncertainty, adaptive leaders are the ones who build processes to make better decisions despite the traits of complex and non-linear situations. Because Dr. Borum’s premise is something that I believe in, the Tactical Analysis program was designed to help empower the “foxes” in the security, defense and law enforcement fields with a process to begin removing the inherent uncertainty present in operations. The program’s focus on how to establish a baseline for any area or situation they may encounter plays to the strengths of the fox. I’d like to show how three characteristics of a fox that Dr. Borum identifies can be developed through the Tactical Analysis course.
Characteristic #1: Foxes engage by learning.
The process that we teach in the newly released Tactical Analysis Advanced Course to establish the baseline of an area through the hasty and deliberate search is simply a way to learn about the area you are in. By systematically looking at the different characteristics of the area by using the four pillars of observable behavior and the patterns that allow areas to function smoothly, an alert observer will quickly begin to make sense of the situation they are in.
The reason why we teach our students how to establish the baseline so that they can learn about the area is because, by defining these patterns in the way that we teach, it will also allow the observer to realize when they see someone who doesn’t fit within their current baseline. While that could mean the person is an anomaly worth investigating, it could also highlight a gap in the established baseline, allowing the constantly learning fox to develop a more complete and more accurate understanding of what is normal. This systems-oriented perspective facilitates learning by allowing a trained observer to understand how the different pieces of the baseline come together to impact each other. While foxes are going to naturally learn about their area, the baselining process can help shorten the learning curve by providing structure to the first few moments of observation instead of simply jumping in with the goal of eventually understanding what is happening around you.
Characteristic #2: Foxes anticipate the future while acknowledging the uncertainty.
In his article, “The Fox and the Hedgehog,” Dr. Borum states that foxes are more likely to acknowledge the uncertainty of their predictions and forecasts about situations. As author Nassim Taleb highlights in his book Black Swan, predicting low probability events that could occur at some point in the future are nearly impossible to do. This is why foxes are less likely to make statements about the future with absolute certainty.
In the Tactical Analysis program we acknowledge this and help teach our students to focus their predictions about the future to higher probability events where there are a greater number of comparable experiences. By learning the terminology and the process that goes into establishing the norm for areas people are in, the same process can be used to begin anticipating the conditions for an area you are about to walk into. In our Advanced Course, we show how the baseline for a coffee shop in America has a number of similarities to cafes overseas. By using comparable situations, protectors can begin to anticipate the baseline for an area they are about to walk into, even if they have never been there before.
What is important is that we aren’t predicting the likelihood of a terrorist attack at that specific location, which would be a very difficult prediction. We are focusing our mental efforts on the process that would help us identify the pre-event indicators to crime or violence at that moment and in that location. The predictions we make are focused on mental priming so that trained observers are able to quickly confirm (or revise) their anticipated baseline and turn to the search for anomalies who possess violent intent hiding within the crowd and in the area earlier in the attack cycle.
Characteristic #3: Foxes tend to be adaptive.
When it comes to recognizing threats, there are elements of applying both the art and the science to be successful in this pursuit. Let’s say you would like to calm a person that you are talking with down and observe that the person is displaying the dominant cluster of cues. That is something you can be confident in, but when it comes to shifting them from the dominant cluster to the comfortable cluster (where you want them to be if you’re attempting to deescalate a situation,) there are multiple ways you might be able to accomplish this. You could try to be more dominant than they are and force them into submission. You could try to display some indicators from the submissive cluster to show that you are not a threat and don’t intend to harm them. You could display the comfortable cluster to be a calming presence. Depending on the situation, any of these three approaches might work, but the focus for the operator is on whether the approach they have chosen is working or not.
Because we focus behavioral science on the baseline (for this situation it would be the starting point the person is in, the dominant cluster,) you can build in an immediate feedback loop to figure out if you need to adapt or if you need to continue in your current approach. If you try to calm a person down by displaying submissiveness, you can focus your search for cues on whether they are shifting from dominance into the comfortable cluster. If they begin to display a higher intensity of dominance, then you can realize that you are not succeeding and quickly re-think your strategy and adapt.
While being adaptable is the goal, teaching less experienced Marines, soldiers, protectors and police officers how to establish a baseline and then look for changes provides them with actual tangible tools to show them how to adjust their approach based on the actual situation they are in. But without a terminology and structure for observing those we are interacting with, this can be a difficult challenge.
While Dr. Borum advocates the need for more “fox-like” thinking, he also acknowledges that this distinction isn’t necessarily a choice. Some people have natural tendencies one way or the other. If you are naturally a hedgehog, shifting your thinking to be more fox-like might not a smooth or fluid process. Without a structure or clear terminology to define what is happening, it can be frustrating to know that there are different approaches to judgment and decision-making available, but that you may be unable to learn how to do that. As the variety of threats and risks that our country faces continue to adapt and evolve, our approach to security here at The CP Journal has always been to empower those on the ground with skills they need to quickly learn, be able to focus their predictions on higher payoff events and become more adaptable overall.
If you would like to learn more about how the Tactical Analysis program supports these efforts, we encourage you to take a look at our training offerings or to get in touch with us so that we can answer your questions.
[i] Borum, Randy, “The Fox and the Hedgehog: Contrasting Approaches to Anticipating the Environment”, Infinity Journal, Vol. 3, Issue No. 4, winter 2014, pages 30-33.