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What can the CIA teach you about solving marketing problems? 13 May, 2008

Posted by Jay Ball in Uncategorized.

Today’s problems are rarely simple (even deciding what to have for dinner can generate a bewildering array of options). And many of today’s marketing challenges present problems within problems. A lack of visibility is endemic. Seeing the actual problem is difficult let alone finding a solution.200805131329.jpg

Tricky problems are, of course, par for the course for the world’s spooks. And when they are not developing nuclear deterrents in the shape of wristwatches, they also come up with some pretty nifty approaches to problems in general.

The following is the Phoenix List, an approach developed by the CIA to help agents with central intelligences pick apart the problems they face. It’s split into two sections, one for the problem, one for what to do about it.

Defining the problem

1. Why is it necessary to solve the problem?

2. What benefits will you receive by solving the problem?

3. What is the unknown?

4. What is it you don’t yet understand?

5. What is the information you have?

6. What isn’t the problem?

7. Is the information sufficient? Or is it insufficient? Or redundant? Or contradictory?

8. Should you draw a diagram of the problem? A figure?

9. Where are the boundaries of the problem?

10. Can you separate the various parts of the problem? Can you write them down? What are the relationships between the parts of the problem?

11. What are the constants (things that can’t be changed)?

12. Have you seen the problem before?

13. Have you seen this problem in a slightly different form?

14. Do you know a related problem?

15. Can you think of a familiar problem having the same or a similar unknown?

16. Suppose you find a problem related to yours that has already been solved. Can you use it? Can you use its method?

Coming up with a plan

1. Can you solve the whole problem? Part of the problem?

2. What would you like the resolution to be? Can you picture it?

3. How much of the unknown can you determine?

4. Can you derive something useful from the information you have?

5. Have you used all the information?

6. Have you taken into account all essential notions in the problem?

7. Can you separate the steps in the problem-solving process? Can you determine the correctness of each step?

8. What creative thinking techniques can you use to generate ideas? How many different techniques?

9. Can you see the result? How many different kinds of results can you see?

10. How many different ways have you tried to solve the problem?

11. What have others done?

12. Can you intuitively create a solution? Can you check the results?

13. What should be done? How should it be done?

14. Where should it be done?

15. Who should do it?

16. What do you need to do at this time?

17. Who will be responsible for what?

18. Can you use this problem to solve some other problems?

19. What is the unique set of qualities that makes this problem what it is and none other?

Of course, launching your next product is unlikely to have the same complexity as overthrowing an unfriendly state or stopping Ethan Hunt abseiling in and nicking your secrets but some of the above might prove useful.

Just remember: you didn’t get it from me.



1. Anthony Galvin - 13 May, 2008

Sometimes it seems that CIA problems have fairly simple solutions compared to marketing problems!

Perhaps that’s more indicative of the way many marketing ‘solutions’ aim to solve _all_ the available marketing problems in one go, rather than being focused and picking them off one by one.

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