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Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer Hardcover – February 7, 2013
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Even though the CIA has been prominent in the not-so-great-news department of late, there are some intriguing takeaways from its operatives. Offering no tell-all story, former operative Carleson applies her learning from eight years at the CIA—during the aftermath of 9/11—to corporate America and business success. Many of her easy-to-read lessons concern information—how to get it and how to use it legitimately when applied to internal and external competition and to the improvement of performance and outcomes. For the first third of the book, she concentrates on boot-camp tactics and follow-up exercises, such as targeting, corroboration, and strategic elicitation. The rest of the book is concerned with how to use those tactics in a host of situations, from recruitment, ethics problems, and crisis management, to sales, compliance, and using competitive intelligence. It’s certainly not a dry read, since Carleson inserts some harrowing (and declassified) accounts of her CIA adventures. Although a hard-to-categorize book, it nevertheless is a useful guide. “There is information for the taking that can change the entire playing field for you and your organization. Getting this information is a matter of asking the right people the right questions in the right way.” Learn it, use it. --Barbara Jacobs
"In this clever twist on the career self-help genre, former CIA agent Carleson takes the principles that she learned in clandestine service and applies them to today's business world… This quick and enjoyable read offers plentiful nuggets of information, which can be put to good use by any career-minded reader."
"Carleson deftly translates the skills of spy craft learned through her eight years in the field—intelligence gathering, recruitment and crisis management—into know-how that can be used 'by anyone—at any level—in the workplace,' she writes. The advice, techniques and exercises for networking, improving sales and generally getting ahead of the competition won’t morph you into a master spy, but it will definitely expand your approach to everyday interactions and make you more versatile, shrewd and savvy, whether you’re a job seeker, salesperson, manager or CEO."
“I found Work Like a Spy to be much more than a compelling read penned by an ex-CIA officer. J. C. Carleson importantly offers a fresh slate of easily understood risk mitigation practices and exercises.”
—FRANCIS D’ADDARIO, CPP CFE, Emeritus Faculty Leader, Strategic Influence and Innovation, Security Executive Council
“This is a blast! J. C. Carleson has written the cure for the common business book. Part business advice book, part memoir, part window into the world of covert intelligence, it will both inform and intrigue the reader. Going beyond the typical business anecdotes, Carleson gives us a glimpse of the world of covert officers, international intrigue, and true high stakes encounters. More than just telling stories, though, Work Like a Spy uses examples from the CIA to provide a set of principles that can be used to succeed in any organization.”
—ALEXANDER J. S. COLVIN, Professor of Labor Relations and Conflict Resolution, ILR School, Cornell University
“Carleson provides a compelling argument for the importance of intelligence and counterintelligence in day-to-day business. Her straightforward suggestions encourage the reader to always be on guard for information—either to keep it or to gather it.”
—DEB COHEN, Ph.D., SPHR, SVP, Knowledge Development, Society for Human Resource Management
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As a Human Intelligence Collector in the U.S. Army, I have long come to realize it is all about people. Essentially any item of information we need is in the mind of someone if we can only access it. Likewise, essentially anything we need done can be done by someone if we can only get them to do it. Understanding human nature, both our own and of the people with whom we interact, means everything. Work Like a Spy offers an inside glimpse into the world of human intelligence and unclassified tradecraft that can help us all be more effective.
Work Like a Spy is divided into three parts. Part One is an introduction to the clandestine world and the basic concepts of intelligence collection from human sources. Carleson makes the fundamental assertion that the best way to get information on any subject is to get it directly from a human source that has it. She further elaborates on techniques anyone can use to get close to the people who can help them and how to use observation, interpersonal skills, and elicitation techniques to establish rapport and obtain useful information. Beyond simple theory, Carleson includes practical exercise to give her readers opportunity to apply and build each skillset she discusses. It is important to note Ms. Carleson is not teaching people how to use or manipulate others. On the contrary, she is simply helping her readers understand the nature of human interaction and how to prepare for opportunities and potential dangers. The author also discusses counterintelligence (CI) and gives practical, inexpensive ways for business leaders to detect potential CI issues. She recommends monitoring for certain changes in an organization's operational environment to include where former employees are going to work, where former clients are going for business, and how quickly competitors are countering new initiatives. Changes to the composite answers to such questions may be indicators of potential intelligence leaks.
In Part Two, Carleson discusses internal business applications of human intelligence tradecraft. She gives immensely practical hiring advice. From the careful crafting of job announcements to using elicitation skills learned in Part One to corroborate applicant skills and background, her advice on employee screening alone could save an organization considerable time and money. CIA management techniques can also be applied to internal management of both personnel and crises. Again, Carleson renders practical advice - how to attract and retain highly skilled personnel and how to best utilize unique talents and personalities. She describes the importance of establishing non-negotiable organization ethical absolutes and the key roles management must fulfill during an organizational crisis. My favorite nugget of advice I gleaned from Part Two was to "Own the solution, not the mistake." It is insufficient for a leader to take ownership of a mistake - seizing the initiative to develop a fully-implementable solution for the mistake is far more important than simply admitting to it.
Part Three describes external applications of lessons from the CIA. If anyone has a hard sell to make, it is a CIA case officer. Convincing someone from another part of the world to commit espionage against their government, their group, or even their own tribe or family is amazingly difficult - not to mention potentially very dangerous. Yet the CIA successfully does it time after time, and over the years, case officers have learned valuable lessons about human nature in the process. Carleson concludes this section by stating the CIA does not focus on selling a product. Instead, CIA case officers focus on developing interpersonal relationships, conducting research, understanding vulnerabilities, and building rapport. These skills tend to be neglected in today's world of high-tech communications. As Ms. Carleson reminds her readers, psychological prowess is far more important than technological prowess. Finally, the author instructs her readers in how to follow the CIA's strategy of "360-degree intelligence collection" by building a source network that includes subordinates, peers, supervisors, and even multiple sources from within the organizations of suppliers and subcontractors. Nothing compares to intelligence and support available directly from the people most able to provide it.
Work Like a Spy is an interesting read and a great primer on unclassified CIA tradecraft. The book goes a long way to help readers understand the importance of interpersonal relationships and how to be successful at them. Ms. Carleson concludes her book with the assertion that building "a solid reputation for integrity" is far more important than any tradecraft, no matter how well applied. I could not agree more. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to be more successful and astute in their interpersonal relationships. The tradecraft presented in this book is powerful, but doomed to fail unless applied with integrity and honor. As chaplains in the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Corps say, "The moral high ground is key terrain."
Carleson, J.C. (2013). Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer. London: Portfolio Hardcover.
Read this book aside your daily news report from Quartz, Al Jazeera or else and then decide which one is fiction. However, if you read this book your guesses will be significantly less.
Having said that, there is good information in the book, like asking people on the inside when you want to find out something in the case of WMD. Also, how the CIA cookbook is filled with teaching manipulation, exploitation, trapping, elicitation, distortion, distraction, denial and deception is validating.
I liked the targeting exercise where no group is safe from manipulation. Also, the author talks about the arrogance of agents. Definitely, her comments about the duality of human nature are absolutely true. Certainly the recruiting practices referred to bring this to light.
The old manipulative tried and true "need to know" basis is discussed. I loved the comments about shifting allegiances. This holds but to a lesser degree when it comes to the civil service careerism at any cost mentality. In general the strategies for crisis management are worth the read.
I liked the comments about corporate abuses and wished the author had included more of the CIA's sixty-five year continuous abuse of children in the name of mind-control and called it in the name of democracy (see La Taza Azul by Ricardo Ali Fernandez and CIA psychiatrists by Colin Ross M.D.)
For sure bribing potential agents with passports and potential citizenship is a long time trait of CIA activities and corporations. The author's intent to show techniques to get ahead in either the CIA and or corporate world is achieved.