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Kenneth Knight shares lessons from a career spent analyzing and preparing for the unknown.

SEPTEMBER 2009

Kenneth Knight describes his job as helping the president of the United States and his administration “avoid surprise.” As the national intelligence officer for warning, Knight oversees a small team of analysts who serve as an institutionalized safeguard against risk—monitoring and challenging the analyses and assumptions of the broader intelligence community. In this interview, he discusses evaluating threats, overcoming cognitive biases, and constructing scenarios—challenges familiar to most private-sector strategists. McKinsey’s Drew Erdmann and Lenny Mendonca spoke with Knight in Washington, DC, in June 2009.

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