The HEAD Game

Title:                      The HEAD Game

Author:                  Philip Mudd

Mudd, Philip (2015). The HEAD Game: High Efficiency Analytic Decision-Making And The Art of Solving Complex Problems Quickly. New York : Liveright Publishing Corporation

LCCN:    2015006002

BF448 .M83 2015


Date Updated:  January 9, 2017

Brief review in Intelligencer[1]

How do you make decisions when the stakes are really, really high? This former deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and the FBI’s National Security Branch (currently director of enterprise risk at SouthernSun asset management) has some answers. The HEAD game is High Efficiency Analytic Decision Making.

Review by Carly R. Speranza[2]

With the Rise of ISIS, Russia’s increased role on the world stage, and an endless array of conflicts and crises across the world, Philip Mudd’s book, The HEAD Game, is timely and relevant to today’s intelligence professional. While the book is focused heavily on intelligence analysis, the analytic exercises that Mudd takes the reader through can be successfully utilized by almost any profession. In fact, through a number of real-world anecdotes and clever analogies, to include the 1979 Iranian Revolution and India’s 1998 nuclear test, the author, manages to keep a somewhat complex topic engaging and accessible to any reader.

Mudd, a former analyst and executive at CIA, FBI, and member of the National Security Council, begins his book with the premise that the digital age has increased data, and thus has increased complexity and rendered decision-making more difficult. To provide a solution to this present and ever-growing “big data” issue, Mudd drives the reader through the book to first, formulate questions that the reader wants answered, and then to look at the available data. If applied correctly, questions should drive analysis, not data. This is described by Mudd as “thinking backward, right-to left.” The author cements this idea through a number of repeatable steps, referred to as guiding principles, and each step is given its own chapter within the book. Along these lines, Mudd presents the following steps within the book to assist the reader to begin thinking “right-to-left”:

  • Craft the right question
  • Identify drivers, or components to help answer the question
  • Determine a set of metrics to measure performance
  • Assess the data
  • Acknowledge gaps and discordant data
  • Formulate a conclusion(s)

While the art of “thinking backward” may feel unnatural at first, Mudd holds that it can be applied successfully without an advanced degree or access to classified information. In this regard, he is correct. However, Mudd is truly seeking for the reader to make long-term changes on how they manage hard decisions and “big data”; and while the subject is clearly relevant, the author has taken on a tough task to attempt behavioral changes. In this way, Mudd devotes almost one-fourth of the book to an appendix referred to as “A Practitioner’s Checklist” that provides an opportunity for the reader to practice their newly acquired “right-to-left” skills.

On the whole, Mudd has made a bold attempt to instill years of analytical experience and expertise into a book that is easy to digest and able to be pulled from the bookshelf again and again as necessary. I anticipate that this book will, and probably should, be integrated into the ever-growing intelligence education programs throughout the globe. Analysis and decision-making are skills that intelligence professionals continually seek to hone, and this book will force most professionals through the critical thought process in an effort to increase their analytical skills. Granted, more senior intelligence professionals may already have these skills in their toolkit; however, they are likely to appreciate Mudd’s reflection on historical events in the intelligence community.

[1] Intelligencer (21, 1, Winter 2014-15, p. 137)

[2] Carly R. Speranza, Lt Col, USAF Chair, Intelligence Enterprise Department National Intelligence University, in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (21, 3, Fall/Winter 2015, p. 127).


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