At first glance, agency or professional services businesses don't have too much in common with international intelligence agencies. For a start we're no good at keeping secrets (in fact it's generally our job to spread information far and wide).

On deeper examination, though, you find that the gathering and analysis of information is similarly at the core of both lines of business. Intelligence agencies have a much more systematic and thoughtful approach to this process, of course — that means there's much for agencies to learn.

David Omand is the former Director of GCHQ, at the heart of the UK's intelligence gathering and analysis. In How Spies Think, Omand writes about their methods of managing information and working out what is going to happen.

This can be applied by agencies in helping clients understand their markets and the wider world, or within the agency itself in planning more strategically.

The Big Idea

Leaders are constantly making decisions. The quality of those decisions is directly proportional to the quality of the information they are able to consider before deciding.

But, there is rarely perfect information: “Our knowledge of the world is always fragmentary and incomplete, and is sometimes wrong,” says Omand.

Therefore it is crucial that we have good methods for being able to analyse complex information effectively.

GCHQ and other intelligence agencies have systematic approaches to do this, and Omand shares a framework that he has taught to intelligence analysts: the SEES model.

The SEES model is: