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Knowing: Cognitive Processes

Key Topics

The second cog suggests four internal cognitive processes that support the capabilities discussed above. These four internal cognitive processes greatly improve our power to understand the external world and to make maximum use of our internal thinking capabilities, transforming our observations into understanding. They are: Visualizing, Intuiting, Valuing, and Judging.

In summary, these four internal cognitive processes -- Visualizing, Intuiting, Valuing and Judging -- work with the five cognitive capabilities - Noticing, Scanning, Patterning, Sensing and Integrating -- to process data and information and create knowledge within the context of the enemy and the situation. However, this knowledge must always be suspect because of our own self-limitations, internal inconsistencies, historical biases, and emotional distortions.


The first of these processes, visualizing, represents the methodology of focusing attention on a given area, and through imagination and logic creating an internal vision and scenario for success. In developing a successful vision, one must frequently take several different perspectives of the situation, play with a number of assumptions underlying the perspectives, and through a playful trial and error, come up with potential visions. This process is more creative than logical, more intuitive than rational, and wherever possible should be challenged, filtered and constructed in collaboration with other competent individuals. Often this is done between two trusting colleagues or perhaps with a small team. While there is never absolute assurance that visualizing accurately represents reality, there are probabilities or degrees of success that can be recognized and developed.

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The second supporting area is that of intuiting. By this we mean the art of making maximum use of our own intuition developed carefully through experience, trial and error, and deliberate internal questioning and application. There are standard processes available for training oneself to surface intuition. Recognize that intuition is typically understood as being the ability to access our non-conscious mind and thereby make effective use of its very large store of observations, experiences and knowledge.

Empathy represents another aspect of intuition. Empathy is being interpreted as the ability to take oneself out of oneself and putting oneself into another person's world … in other words, as the old Indian saying goes, "Until you walk a mile in his moccasins, you will never understand the person." The ability of empathy allows one to translate our personal perspective into that of an enemy and thereby understand their interpretation of the situation. Such intelligence is clearly advantageous in warfare. An aspect of intuition is "mind mapping." This is a tool to visually recognize relationships from discrete and diverse pieces of information and data. In addition to providing a systems interpretation as discussed earlier, mind mapping can also be used to trigger ideas and dig deeper into one's intuitive capability to bring out additional insights.

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Valuing represents the capacity to observe situations and recognize the value underlying their various aspects and concomitantly be fully aware of your own values and beliefs. A major part of valuing is the ability to align your vision, mission and goals to focus attention on the immediate situation at hand. A second aspect represents the ability to identify the relevant but unknown aspects of a situation or enemy behavior. Of course, the problem of unknown unknowns always exists in warfare, and, while logically they are impossible to identify because by definition they are unknown, there are techniques available that help one expand the area of known-unknowns and hence reduce the probability of unknown unknowns occurring. Such areas were thoroughly explored in a recent brainstorming session held at the Naval War College. Experts within and outside the Defense Department were brought together to explore the future in terms of consequence management and unknown-unknowns.

The third aspect of valuing is that of meaning, that is, understanding the important aspects of the situation and being able to prioritize them and anticipate potential consequences. Meaning is contingent upon the goals and aspirations of the individual. It also relies on the history of both the individual's experience and the context of the situation.

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The fourth supporting area is that of "judging." Judgments are conclusions and interpretations developed through the use of rules of thumb, facts, knowledge and experiences, and intuition. While not necessarily widely recognized, judgments are used far more than logic or rational thinking in decision making. This is because all but the simplest decisions occur in a context in which there is insufficient, noisy, or perhaps too much information to make rational conclusions. Judgment makes maximum use of heuristics, metaknowing, and verication. Heuristics represent the rules of thumb developed over time and through experience in a given field. They are short cuts to thinking that are applicable to specific situations. Their value is speed of conclusions and their usefulness rests on consistency of the environment. Thus, they are both powerful and dangerous. Dangerous because the situation or environment, when changing, may quickly invalidate past-proven heuristics and historically create the phenomenon of always fighting the last war. Powerful because they represent efficient and rapid ways of making decisions where the situation is known and the heuristics apply.

A related aspect of judgment is that of metaknowing. Metaknowing is knowing about knowing, that is, knowing how we know things and how we go about knowing things. With this knowledge, one can then go about learning and knowing in new situations as they evolve in time. Such power and flexibility greatly improve the final judgment and decisions made. It is closely tied to our natural internal processes of learning and behaving - "Know thyself" - as well as knowing how to make most effective use of the external data, information, and knowledge available. The third aspect of judgment is verication. This is the process by which we can improve the probability of making correct judgments by working with others and using their experience and "knowing" to validate and improve the level of judgmental effectiveness. Again, this could be done via a trusted colleague or through effective team creativity and decision-making.

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