Business Confidential: Lessons for Corporate Success from Inside the CIA

Business Confidential: Lessons for Corporate Success from Inside the CIA

by Peter Earnest, Maryann Karinch

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Finding and recruiting the best people. Training them with the skills they need to get the job done. Establishing connections with the right people. Making contingency plans and dealing with change, mistakes, and the unexpected...all while getting the job done. Sound like the CIA, or what you do at the office every day?


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Finding and recruiting the best people. Training them with the skills they need to get the job done. Establishing connections with the right people. Making contingency plans and dealing with change, mistakes, and the unexpected...all while getting the job done. Sound like the CIA, or what you do at the office every day?

Deeply involved in America’s Cold War intelligence operations, Peter Earnest knows the surprising similarities between what the Central Intelligence Agency does to coordinate operations and protect the country and what any smart organization can do to protect its bottom line. In Business Confidential: Lessons for Corporate Success from Inside the CIA, Earnest and coauthor Maryann Karinch demonstrate what you and your organization can learn from how the CIA does business.

Filled with fascinating and instructive examples from CIA operations and the business world, Business Confidential vividly illustrates the value of the intelligence mindset in today’s unpredictable corporate landscape. You’ll find out how to:

• Develop enormous competitive advantage by collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information that is genuinely “intelligence”

• Lure and retain high-caliber talent by discovering what truly motivates people to want to work for you

• Take continual steps to encourage loyalty and creative thinking

• Use mistakes as a springboard to create success rather than let them foil your plans

• Master the arts of risk assessment and risk mitigation using the same methods the CIA has used for years

• Discover how the CIA’s intelligence cycle specifically corresponds to the strategic planning cycle of a company, and how you can execute the plans smoothly at your own organization

In addition, the book gives you insights into the Agency’s extraordinary screening, testing, and training practices; methods for supporting employee retention; creative and agile problem solving; and methods for establishing mission-focused outcomes. Packed with insider strategies from one of the world’s smartest intelligence organizations, this book provides you with the intel you need to gain the edge over your corporate competition.

PETER EARNEST worked in the Central Intelligence Agency for 36 years, including a quarter century in the Agency’s National Clandestine Service. Earnest has also served on active duty with the United States Marine Corps. He is the Executive Director of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., and is frequently interviewed by the media. He is the author of The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy.

MARYANN KARINCH is the author of 17 books, including How to Spot a Liar, I Can Read You Like a Book, and How to Become an Expert on Anything in 2 Hours, which were coauthored with Gregory Hartley.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“…covers the gamut of business practices…equip aspiring business executives with a powerful set of tools to advance their careers.” --Foreword magazine

“…want to know why the project you and your team just put six months of your life into ended in disaster, this guy can help.” --Andrea Kay, Gannett News Service

“…refreshing to hear from someone who knows how to really play the intelligence game…instructive and insightful guide to leadership and collaboration.” --Houston Business Journal

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION: How Much Is Business? How Much Is Espionage?

by Maryann Karinch

I began this book as a skeptic, unsure that spies could teach business pro-

fessionals a darned thing that was legal. After a few days of absorbing the

stories and other material, I was sure they could, however. One key to seeing

the connection was to ask questions that related to the actual jobs and

not to the Hollywood versions of spy work. The other key was my keeping

in mind that Peter Earnest is no ordinary spy. The breadth of his career

experiences and his ability to communicate the lessons derived from those

experiences make him a superior resource.

The result is a book offering transferable business practices from the

CIA’s National Clandestine Service (NCS) that support employee selection

and retention, creative and agile problem solving, mission-focused outcomes,

and learning from mistakes. Peter’s experiences in the world of

espionage illustrate core business principles. Peter and I also knew of many

events from the business world that either implemented or failed to imple-

ment those principles. Including case studies from both worlds is one way

this book capitalizes on his expertise and mine.

My initial vision of what this book would be was wrong in certain

respects and yet, ultimately, right overall. This seeming paradox evolved as

my preconceived notions about the intelligence services matured during

conversations with Peter. For example, I expected a great deal of regularity:

models for action with prescribed shapes and clean edges. Knowing

how case officers in the field must handle each covert meeting and action

with diligence, I assumed Peter would share codification of practices, formu-

las to achieve certain outcomes, and patterns and systems that could be

replicated to improve the effectiveness of any business professional. There

are some structured programs like that in the book, but for the most part

the how-to guidance takes a different form.

Instead of blueprints, the recommendations here have the tone and

shape of executive coaching. They flow from Peter’s insights about the true

success of the intelligence services: the people “on the line,” why they stay

there, and the advantages and functioning of a culture of trust. This is so

for a couple of reasons.

First, the people “on the line” are not just case officers who recruit foreign

nationals or technology wizards who will bug the lairs of terrorists

abroad. They are everyone in the National Clandestine Service.

Second, the insights on why they stay at the Agency are prescient, as

well as reflective of what has worked in the field for decades. In today’s

business world, “climbing the corporate ladder” is becoming a quaint

phrase. Many people enter the workforce today viewing career advance-

ment as a route to a purpose-driven career or simply “doing what I want

to do.” The Central Intelligence Agency has known since its inception that

it could not lure high-caliber talent with competitive salaries alone.

Intelligence officers are government employees with established pay

grades. Leisure time and an evening meal with the family may often be

hard to come by for case officers, who in many cases do two jobs: the cover

job and the covert one.

Third, from hiring processes to communications practices through

problem solving in the field, building trust both internally and externally

is vital—and doing so is a calculated and achievable action. Loyalty and

creative thinking are not random benefits of having good people on board.

Companies can foster these attributes in a series of steps.

Having tackled business issues for thirty years as an employee, an

entrepreneur, and now a writer, I especially enjoyed this project because I

came to understand what kind of relationships, culture, programs, and

leadership make it possible for a government agency with high demands

to attract and retain so many extraordinary professionals.

Most of the answers to how-to questions came from Peter, but other

sources in both the public and private sectors contributed important

details as well. Using Peter’s description of the Agency’s successes in the

key areas of personnel, operations, strategy, and learning from mistakes, I

sometimes reverse-engineered the outcomes. That is, I looked for those

areas of success in private companies and found out how they achieved the

same results. In addition to getting glimpses of how the Agency conducts

its business, therefore, I saw how companies screen employees effectively,

channel the talents of their workforce to outsmart the competition,

breathe life into a corporate culture, and maintain healthy management


For instance, sometimes the methods used by the National

Clandestine Service and by business are similar, if not identical; sometimes

they look quite different. But even though NCS officers—I’ll call them

spies for convenience, even though the term really applies to the “other

guys”—and business executives may not live similar lives, the methods

they use to get their jobs done are rarely worlds apart. So organizations in

the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors can implement every bit of business

guidance in this book.

As for my paradox, I was wrong about what shape the how-to business

information from a spy-turned-businessman would take, but I was right

that it would showcase the unique insights of a successful businessman

who used to be a spy. That unusual man, Peter Earnest, serves as narrator

in this text—he is the “I” and “we” on the pages that reference people in

the Intelligence Community. For the most part, the stories and counsel

here reflect our combined experience and research—but all those stories

about silent drills and dead drops . . . I had nothing to do with them.

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