The Investigator Mindset: Lessons from a Police Detective

In my years as a police detective, I've compiled a list of the top traits shared by the best investigators:

CURIOSITY. You must have a genuine interest in discovering the truth and learning about what *really* happened. If you prematurely commit to an opinion or conclusion, you'll never truly be open to exploring the other plausible possibilities. Step 001 is acknowledging that you don't know.

THEORY DEVELOPMENT. It's natural to hold hypotheses and theories about what might have occurred. But you can't be married to them. It's healthy to hold multiple, diverse, and conflicting theories at the same time. Have you ever heard of MECE - Mutually Exclusive & Collectively Exhaustive? Let that concept guide your development of theories.

DISPROVE YOUR THEORIES. It's easy to find supporting evidence. It's more valuable to find evidence that disproves your theories. This is the exact and explicit opposite of "confirmation bias." This practice ensures only the strongest theories remain standing.

OPEN-ENDED INQUIRY. Learn to ask questions without leading. This is vital to obtaining the most unbiased, most authentic stories from those you interview. Your interview style has a great impact on the value, accuracy, reliability, and truthfulness of the information you'll glean from that person. (Recommendation: Don't emulate the television show detectives.)

CHALLENGE OF ASSUMPTIONS. Why do you think that? What makes you believe that? What else could be going on? What if that's not the truth? What biases or preferences might be getting in the way? Get to the core of each fact, clue, nugget of information, piece of evidence, line of data... Get your partners to challenge your ideas. (Note: Don't take it personally!)

REFLECTION ON FEEDBACK. As you learn more, your theories and hypotheses must be refined, matured, narrowed, excluded, confirmed, or adapted. This is a cyclical and perpetual process of analysis and synthesis. If you're familiar with Boyd's OODA, this is the "Destruction & Creation" piece inside Orientation.

These are so-called "soft" cognitive skills that form a foundation upon which all the technical skills sit. Without these, none of the other stuff matters.



Lou Hayes, Jr. is a detective supervisor in a suburban Chicago police department, collaterally detailed to a regional major crimes (homicide) task force.  He has a passion for multi-jurisdictional crime patterns, criminal networks, & regional intelligence. With a background in training, he studies human performance, decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, & adaptability. 

Follow Lou on LinkedIn, & also the LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model***


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