Articles / Interesting Case of the Month
What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer:
This article asks a simple question: Why are there so many mass shootings in the US?
Perhaps, some speculate, it is because American society is unusually violent. Or its racial divisions have frayed the bonds of society. Or its citizens lack proper mental care under a health care system that draws frequent derision abroad.
These explanations share one thing in common: Though seemingly sensible, all have been debunked by research on shootings elsewhere in the world. Instead, an ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.
That conclusion is seemingly obvious: it’s because of the number of guns in this country. Per the article’s authors, “the top-line numbers suggest a correlation that, on further investigation, grows only clearer.”
What are those “top line” numbers:
- The United States has 270 million guns and had 90 mass shooters from 1966 to 2012
- No other country has more than 46 million guns or 18 mass shooters
- Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns
- America’s gun homicide rate was 33 per million people in 2009, far exceeding the average among developed countries. In Canada and Britain, it was 5 per million and 0.7 per million, respectively, which also corresponds with differences in gun ownership.
The numbers, and the article, are sobering. I urge all to read the article.
Max Fisher, Josh Keller, The New York Times, “What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer,” November 7, 2017
When Should Leaders Own a Decision and When Should They Delegate?:
This piece, by Victoria Medvec, appeared in the October issue of KelloggInsight and addresses the critically important issues of effective decision making and delegation. While I’m not a fan of the piece’s title (“When Should Leaders Own a Decision and When Should They Delegate?”) because I believe that good leaders “own” all decisions, whether delegated to another or made by him/herself, I liked its discussion and the risk analytical process advocated.
Medvec recommends that leaders “approach decisions by first considering the riskiness of a decision.” That analysis, she continues, should determine
(1) who is involved in making the decision,
(2) how much time should be spent,
(3) how much certainty is required, and
(4) [the]. . . tolerance . . . for error.”
Basing her recommendation on the axiom that “a well-run company has the right people focused on the right risks,” Medvec notes that “too often, low-risk decisions get escalated up to the leadership team.” This, she notes, often results in lengthy delays in the time taken to reach a decision, and more often than not decisions that are escalated are “more error-prone, as the people making the decision are further away from the data required to make the call.”
Regarding time, Medvec relates that in her “experience many organizations spend a disproportionate amount of time making low-risk decisions.” She calls this “inverting the risk continuum,” and argues that “[i]nverting the risk continuum can lead a company to lose focus of core business questions.”
With respect to certainty, Medvec states –
Some leaders by nature tend to be more cautious than others—and there is nothing inherently wrong with caution. But it is easy to overanalyze mid-risk and low-risk decisions. To avoid paralysis by analysis, the level of risk should drive how much certainty is required: When is 70 percent enough? When is 50 percent sufficient? When should we just make the call based on our gut because the risk is so low that it would be better to revise the decision if needed later than to analyze it upfront? You want to save your analytic rigor for the important stuff.
Finally, risk tolerance.
Leaders have a choice when it comes to tolerating error. Some choose to punish errors and reward overanalysis. Others actually celebrate mistakes. At 3M, it was hard to get promoted without having made a highly visible mistake that was widely discussed. That is not because 3M loved mistakes, but because they valued risk-taking, which they knew was the spark for innovation.
Instead of being universally cautious, leaders should focus on “de-risking” decisions by actively working to push decisions down the risk continuum.
Concluding, Medvec states:
What you . . .want is a company that encourages innovation and empowers its people to make decisions appropriate to their position. No amount of analysis will ever completely eliminate risk. But when leaders learn to assess that risk and focus on what really matters, they are far more likely to succeed.
Victoria Medvec, KelloggInsight, “When Should Leaders Own a Decision and When Should They Delegate?,” October, 2017
A Second Look at the Steele Dossier—Knowing What We Know Now:
The so called “Steele Dossier” – that research report prepared by Orbis Business Intelligence, a London-based firm specializing in commercial intelligence for government and private-sector clients, and authored by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. As you will likely recall, the Dossier “painted a picture of active collusion between the Kremlin and key Trump campaign officials based on years of Russian intelligence work against Trump and some of his associates.” Its been in the news again lately, and most will remember the uproar it caused when originally published just 10 days before Trump’s inauguration.
Just Security, the “online forum for the rigorous analysis of U.S. national security law and policy,” based in the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law, took a fresh look at the Dossier and asked John Sipher, a “highly respected former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service” to review the documents and opine on their credibility.
Per Just Security’s editors:
[T]he dossier’s information on campaign collusion is generally credible when measured against standard Russian intelligence practices, events subsequent to Steele’s reporting, and information that has become available in the nine months since Steele’s final report. The dossier, in Sipher’s view, is not without fault, including factual inaccuracies. Those errors, however, do not detract from an overarching framework that has proven to be ever more reliable as new revelations about potential Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin and its affiliates has come to light in the nine months since Steele submitted his final report.
A bit of background to refresh your memory:
[The Steele Dossier] is composed of a batch of short reports produced between June and December 2016 by Orbis Business Intelligence, a London-based firm specializing in commercial intelligence for government and private-sector clients. The collection of Orbis reports caused an uproar when it was published online by the US website BuzzFeed, just ten days before Donald Trump’s inauguration.
With that background, consider Sipher’s analysis:
Taken together, the series of reports [comprising the so called “Steele Dossier] painted a picture of active collusion between the Kremlin and key Trump campaign officials based on years of Russian intelligence work against Trump and some of his associates. This seemed to complement general statements from US intelligence officials about Russia’s active efforts to undermine the US election.
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Almost immediately after the dossier was leaked, media outlets and commentators pointed out that the material was unproven. News editors affixed the terms “unverified” and “unsubstantiated” to all discussion of the issue in the responsible media. Political supporters of President Trump simply tagged it as “fake news.” Riding that wave, even legendary Washington Post reporte[r] Bob Woodward characterized the report as “garbage.”
For professional investigators, however, the dossier is by no means a useless document. Although the reports were produced episodically, almost erratically, over a five-month period, they present a coherent narrative of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. As a result, they offer an overarching framework for what might have happened based on individuals on the Russian side who claimed to have insight into Moscow’s goals and operational tactics.
* * *
Many of my former CIA colleagues have taken the Orbis reports seriously since they were first published. This is not because they are not fond of Trump (and many admittedly are not), but because they understand the potential plausibility of the reports’ overall narrative based on their experienced understanding of both Russian methods, and the nature of raw intelligence reporting.
* * *
[Sipher:] Immediately following the BuzzFeed leak, one of my closest former CIA colleagues told me that he recognized the reports as the obvious product of a former Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officer, since the format, structure, and language mirrored what he had seen over a career of reading SIS reports provided to CIA in liaison channels. He and others withheld judgment about the veracity of the reports, but for the reasons I outline further below they did not reject them out of hand. In fact, they were more inclined for professional reasons to put them in the “trust but verify” category.
I’ll leave it to each of you to decide whether to read the entire article, but I must confess that I found it fascinating. Ignoring the Trump/campaign/collusion issues, the description of real world “spy-craft” – how it’s done; what’s considered important and why. . . . .well worth the read. But how can one ignore the “Trump/campaign/collusion issues?!?”
Here’s Sipher’s conclusion:
“I think it is fair to say that the report is not “garbage” as several commentators claimed. The Orbis sources certainly got some things right – details that they could not have known prior. Steele and his company appear serious and credible. Of course, the failure of the Trump team to report details that later leaked out and fit the narrative may make the Steele allegations appear more prescient than they otherwise might. At the same time, the hesitancy to be honest about contacts with Russia is consistent with allegations of a conspiracy.
All that said, one large portion of the dossier is crystal clear, certain, consistent and corroborated. Russia’s goal all along has been to do damage to America and our leadership role in the world. Also, the methods described in the report fit the Russians to a tee. If the remainder of the report is largely true, Russia has a powerful weapon to help achieve its goal. Even if it is largely false, the Kremlin still benefits from the confusion, uncertainty and political churn created by the resulting fallout.
John Sipher, Just Security, September 6, 2017