Intelligence Analysis, Tolstoy and Narratives

By Roger Davies / 13 April 2016 / Humour?, Insights, Intel Analysis, Psychology of Intelligence

I’ve blogged before about the importance, and danger, of “narratives” in delivering intelligence analysis to consumers.  Human beings absorb narratives instinctively, and indeed I think there is a “narrative bias” – if we are told things that are part of a story, we are more inclined to believe it, and indeed if we are writing analysis, there is an instinctive human trait that we will try to create a narrative, even if the facts don’t deserve it.   Leo Tolstoy postulated that there were three fundamental narrative types, and I want to discuss a couple of them, briefly, as they apply to military intelligence:


Geezer called Tolstoy.

Firstly there is the “Redemption Narrative”.  After all, in the military intelligence domain, we are talking about war, and what war doesn’t have a redemption theme, one way or another, as either a winner or loser Sometimes this narrative construct is also called the “journey” narrative.

Secondly there is the “stranger comes to town” narrative. Strangers are unknown, surprising personas. In military terms, more often than not engagements with the enemy are usually surprising in one form or another, so a “battle” becomes something that provides the context for the “Stranger” narrative.

The third fundamental narrative type, as defined famously by Tolstoy, was the Godzilla vs Megashark narrative. I haven’t worked that out yet, but since Tolstoy wrote it, it must be true.  I’ll address this conundrum in my next post.