Article written by Onno Pouw. Facebook Thanks Onno.

The subject is action–intelligence, a subject that you can describe simple and also very complex. A subject that you can describe from many angles, scientific or just from common sense and experience. I am not saying that I am all-knowing on the subject, but who is? My intent is to share my thoughts on the subject, and would like to talk about your opinion on this interesting subject.

Special Security-assignments Brigade From the Netherlands

When I see the word action–intelligence, a number of things come to me. Parting the word in action and intelligence. What is the actual meaning of these words? Afterwards the practical approach of the word in the occupation context. Has the word action–intelligence become commonplace within the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement community? What is actually meant by it? Is it speaking language or a merging of personal traits that are translated into competencies? Do I find the word action–intelligence back in other professions or sports? Can you do action-intelligence training?

By ‘action’ I mean, the ‘thing’ you are doing. This word can therefore be replaced by for example, ‘broker’-intelligence, ‘football’-intelligence or ‘fighter’-intelligence. It is not what you do and the dynamics or context in which it takes place. The word is therefore very broadly used in the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement community.

A first Responder must have action–intelligence in approaching a traffic offender where tact and proportional alignment are on the foundation of the degree of violence, communication and decisiveness to be used in order to make this action optimal. He must tune knowledge, skills and attitude to the action(traffic offender) in the context in which he is currently working. To make it work optimally, the degree of all things mentioned above and the right time span combined, are the ingredients for the right result.

Special Security-assignments Brigade Training High Risk Close Protection

Intelligence can be possessed in different areas. Absolute knowledge of all or specific matter, emotional, adaptability, spiritual, creative or adversity. The intelligence is thus focused on something, what is there, what one is undergoing, what one does, what one thinks, feels, sees or creates. If the task is to be carried out within Armed Forces and Law Enforcement, the ability to address something, or to solve it, can come from intelligence, out of the indicated areas. The context in which one works or sports determine whether this is effective or not. A guy who is ‘streetwise’ that did not get his diploma in school in terms of intelligence may however be very effective on the streets. An example is the infamous Dutch criminal Willem Holleeder. If you would translate his intelligence into a school diploma, than it would not be qualified as high. But to maintain himself in organized crime and to stay out the hands of the Department of Justice, he needs a more than average Intelligence level to achieve this. Another example is from the world of sport namely, Johan Cruyff, no school diploma, but still excessively intelligent in the world of soccer. Cruyff also said that it always seemed that he was fast on to an action. His statement was, that not the speed, but insights and fast analytical capability in that context, were only necessary to be somewhere earlier.

‘Action’ is therefore the thing you ‘Do’ and ‘Intelligence’ determines the degree of success

Special Security-assignments Brigade, supporting Diplomatic Security

Action-Intelligence is in my opinion speaking language in the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement. It is no different as ‘football’–intelligence or ‘fighter’-intelligence. Within the football, this word is translated as an insight. Insight is besides communication, a skill that is supportive within the game of football. Within this game, tactics and technique are applied through support of communication and insight. The outcome of speed, direction, moment and position, supported by insight and communication makes the quality of your action. If one makes the translation to an CT/SWAT action: From which position do I start my action(field position football)? Can I make my action from my position? Is this a safe position, can I act optimally from this position? Where do I have drive or walk to for my action? (like the player on the field moving towards the ball). Wrong direction on the play-field..? Less quality. Wrong direction by CT/SWAT..? Danger or discovery before action.


The moment of deploying my action

A football player can be to early or to late in deploying his action. The CT/SWAT surprising the suspect at the right moment of the deployment gives the subject no room to act, wrong timing might. The speed of the action is measured by the quality of the player, but also by the analysis of the moment. Top football players have the ability to translate information very quickly and act according to the situation. The CT/SWAT analyzes very quickly what is needed in its actions and moves from knowledge, experience and attitude. Insight, analyzing and processing the information, play a large role in the quality and end result of the action.

Special Security-assignments Brigade, with the HK416
Why are some good at this, and some not?

Or does it depend on the context of the action? Deploying your intelligence starts somewhere.., namely where the largest part of it is stored.., in your brain. Where memory is stored is very complex and also depends on the kind of memory, long term, short term, explicitly, implicit and semantic memory. It is a constant interplay between hippo-campus, amygdala(Human radar) and the pre-frontal cortex. In the interplay of what one sees, has experienced, what one knows and what one can do, gives the information(stored somewhere), after analysis of the current experiences. Are you still there? Yeah, trust me, it is a lot more complex if we take our hormones in account too.


Back to basics and keep It Simple.

The total system in your body is build thousands of years ago on the world of then. It was a nice time.., a time of eat or get eaten. The body was composed so that one had three methods of dealing with this, fight against the danger, flee or keep very quiet. Better known as fight, flight or freeze. The response to the danger was already then not for everyone the same. Finally fighting is not for everyone and fleeing was often a better option instead of being eaten. When seeing the danger, the body makes an analysis(amygdala), in the analyze moment it decides from knowledge or experience how big the danger is. In that time, your parents have probably also told that you had to stay away from a T-Rex otherwise you would be eaten. Nowadays they will warn you before crossing the street.., or get eaten by a truck. Being chased by a T-Rex, we call a stressful situation and the level of stress resistance determines the outcome. The Body will react by a hormone dump of Adrenalin and cortisol, which can help, but for some not. In practice we see differences in response. Where some might excel, others might choke. We know that the level of stress has a great influence on our interpretation, thoughts, cognitive, motor-skills and neurotic behavior. The one that thrives is despite the high level of stress able to function perfectly or maybe the situation is not stressful for him, and it does not affect him.

All information, which once is stored, is processed and assessed. For some it is done in a split second for the other, it might take a little longer. That’s also why they might come to different solutions to handle the action. Where some recognize the need directly and acts, the other will choke or take a wrong action. For this we have the terms like, split second decision, action-intelligence, situational awareness and multi-tasking.

I would love to hear your opinion on how we can develop this better in people. By education, schooling and training we can turn the brain on in another way, to generate more capacity and power.


Action Intelligence is a merging of personal traits, knowledge, skills and attitude from all intelligence’s which can be effective in a specific context or not. Complexity, time constraints, stress or affiliation have great influence on this.

Stay safe, regards, Onno.

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  1. An excellent article about Action Intelligence from Onno Pouw! The best one I have read in a long time, clear and practical. Still something is missing in most of the considerations about this subject. In elite sport we studied this subject for a long time, not only because it is important for success or failure, but also because it happens so often e.g. during a game or match.
    Action Intelligence is seldom judged beforehand or as a stable personal trait, but always afterwards, after an action is executed. Smart actions may work out stupid, but only afterwards. And ” stupid” actions may work out well (by coincidence or by sheer luck?). Another point is that many operators think only from their own point of view, but a perpetrator also has a certain level action intelligence, he or she has a plan too! Sometimes they take weeks or months to prepare a plan and think about all the options before they execute it.

    • Really good point Henk, I agree, and a a perpetrator who can plan a counter for this long, can be very dangerous indeed! Thanks for your comment, subscribe to the blog, we will posting more articles like this! Mark

  2. Onno, first and foremost very good article! In my own perspective below I want to respond and sometimes concur with your analysis, and provide my own view on the topic.

    Action intelligence is the ability to see what I call opportunities and act on those in developing and stressful environments, and because military / law enforcement operate in high stress and life or death situations the term action intelligence suits well. the basis is a strong analytical capability, all other such as skills en knowledge etc. supplement the ability to come up with “oppurtinies” and eventually capitalize on these. The level of creativity that a person posses greatly affects the continuous ability to show action intelligence. If a person is credited in eval about a good initiative during a performance, this ability must return in following performances before you credit it too good action intelligence, the reason I say this that it determents it was a lucky “shot” or not. When these opportunities are turned in to benefits for the greater cause it can be called action intelligence. When someone is credited with good action intelligence in the military domain it is that that person developed and or took innitiave on an opportunity were he or the team can benefit from, he saw what nobody saw or could see. It is not only that the results are positively effected but it can also work as risk reducing action were the outcome does not change from the expectation but an individual took on the spot action to cease an opportunity to reduce risk for the friendly side.

    Whether action intelligence can be trained or developed, I think yes. And one way to do it is to push people in conditions were they have come up with on the spot solutions. The way to evaluate is greatly of importance. I think that the individual has to have the ability to look back on possible missed opportunities from his action during the evaluation. Let him run again in a similar environment were he slowly sees the link between analyzing, skills, knowledge and creativity and his own potential with that way of thinking. Not everyone is capable to develop action intelligence were it meets return on investment for the training. That person has to have what I call the X factor, experienced people in the same line of work identify these people quit quickly. The X factor can be called talent for action intelligence, as Onno stated I think IQ is not absolute factor in the X factor. When developing a person with action intelligence the scope must be brought to a next level when potential on a previous level has been proven. So its start with the benefits for himself there after the team and so on. Overall it is an interesting topic to talk about.

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