Many among the most successful businessmen of our times have written about their experience of what they passed through in reaching to the top and what learning they could draw from it for sharing with the newer generations – in the philanthropic spirit of giving a ‘gift’ to the latter.
Achievers with an intellectual bent of mind and a capacity for deep observation and analysis have this very human trait of trying to leave behind a legacy for the entrepreneurs coming after them – role of a genuine ‘teacher’ perhaps gives them an ultimate satisfaction that went beyond the domain of material success.
Glancing through the highly commended works of Ray Dalio an American billionaire investor on ‘principles that will help you to get what you want out of life’, one is struck by the thought that outside of the world of business, Intelligence is one profession that practised these basic points of approach for successfully achieving the goals.
The logic of this perhaps lies in three great similarities between Intelligence and the world of business at large. First, all businesses like intelligence are about human activity – the threat to security or the risk in business is often traceable to the actions of an enemy or an adversarial competitor.
‘Prior information’ can be collected only on the doings of human beings- there was little scope of getting it in regard to acts of Nature.
Secondly, a fuller awareness of human behaviour and psyche helps because in both these spheres of work successful interactions are a key to progress. And finally, in the age of technology – particularly in the context of the transformative shift of the world to the age of Information as a result of the success of IT revolution – human intervention for reading what a process or a machine had produced, remained a vital requirement of successful decision-making.
It is in this backdrop that the working of an Intelligence organisation endorses and legitimises many basic postulations of Ray Dalio even though a word of caution would be in order about the business leaders of the twentieth century not being fully abreast of the new paradigms set by the post-IT revolution world, for success -in the areas of instant communication across geographical frontiers, advent of ‘smart’ players who could compete with much bigger and financially stronger corporates and the new concepts of human resource development that invoked up -skilling and reorganisation of job fits.
One can shortlist five most significant ‘principles’ of work mentioned by Dalio that opened up the prospects of success and which also were among the fundamentals traditionally practised by intelligence professionals.
First is the overriding importance of complete-looking information in decision-making. Dalio drives this point in many ways. According to him, one should not be surprised over something just because one had not encountered it earlier — it could have happened in the historical past not in one’s knowledge.
Further, only human beings tend to have a ‘modus operandi’ that made their past an important source of information for the future. Moreover, risks are relatable to deficiency of information — if you are missing something you better avoid having an opinion.
In the profession of Intelligence, information is looked upon as something that made the difference between a ‘decision’ and a ‘guess’. In fact, intelligence here is also described as ‘information for action’. This suggests that even in business one can not sit on information of intelligence value- it should lead to action or a considered decision about not taking any action.
Another ‘principle’ highlighted by Ray is that truth or an accurate understanding of reality is the essential foundation of any good outcome. Now Intelligence by definition is information tested for its reliability and relevance. An Intelligence organisation can sometimes proceed with incomplete information but never with unverified facts.
In this age of ‘misinformation’ on social media and ‘disinformation’ through fake news, business decisions must rest on trustworthy information about the ‘external environ’ that would affect the enterprise. Corporates now invest significantly on arrangements made for collection and analysis of ‘business intelligence’ covering spheres of politics, law and order, economic development, socio- cultural attitudes and technological advancement. This is an ongoing exercise since factors impacting on business or security could change and call for new responses.
Thirdly, a great principle followed by Intelligence profession – so often missed by people in day-to-day life – is never to mix wishful thinking, personal biases and ‘group think’ in decision -making. This finds an echo in Dalio’s work by way of an advice about ‘not being hung up on how things should be and miss out on how they are’ or ‘not confusing what you wish were true with what is really true’. In the profession of Intelligence one is trained to draw a line between perceptions and realities.
A fourth fundamental of work methodology of successful people is to keep the focus on the mission and leave no stone unturned for achieving it in a planned way. Dalio’s prescription for having a clear goal, not accepting any impediments and diagnosing the problem in order to get round it, is akin to the methodology of Intelligence where one sees the goal and then designs a plan to achieve it choosing a path that will work. Intelligence totally follows the principle- never rule out a goal because you think it is unachievable. Intelligence never says no to any task on that count.
Last but not the least, Ray’s perceptive observation that to be able ‘to evolve was the greatest accomplishment of man’, leads to many useful derivations. He hints at willingness to course- correct on the basis of learning from what had happened.
Intelligence is quite prepared to deal with a shift in the scenario and is the practitioner of a rolling plan in pursuit of an operational goal. A mind-frame imbued with confidence about success is what Intelligence profession provides to its members.
There is no absolute ‘failure’ in Intelligence – failure is looked upon as an honest effort that did not succeed -and the organisation gets going on handling the challenge with an alternate plan evolved out of the experience analysed from all angles.
Successful people have an appetite for relentless pursuit of their mission with an attitude of willingness to assimilate any information update that might call for suitable adjustments in both ‘direction’ and ‘methodology’.
The thought that achievements in business depended on principles followed in the profession of Intelligence proves the point that while money and manpower were essential, it is primarily the intellectual abilities of the leaders driving the business that became a fundamental ingredient of success there.
(The writer is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed are personal)