Stratfor: The Test of Being a Rorschach Test

MIN READAug 28, 2016 | 13:21 GMT

What is Stratfor? David Judson explains.
A look at Stratfor's approach to global intelligence and geopolitical forecasting.


No question about it, Stratfor is an odd place. I've learned from conversations outside the company, and sometimes from conversations within it, that we're a bit of a Rorschach test, akin to those psychologists' inkblots in which each beholder sees different things within the same amoebic shapes. And the disparities are understandable. Those of us who work here exist in the raucousness of the global media ecosystem, but we're not journalists. Stratfor is part of the global commentariat class, frequently compared to journals of economics and foreign affairs in London, Washington and New York. Yet our headquarters is in Austin, Texas, a choice of locale that turns a few heads — despite being an emerging new hub of technology and innovation.

There is, of course, a method to our madness. For I've spent more than half of my 60 years living in major media centers around the world. I appreciate the diversity of dining options in New York and Istanbul, but these cities also nurture an undeniable intellectual homogeneity. You don't exist, for example, if you don't have a position on Donald Trump. Which we don't. Why? Because we believe there are larger and more important things to write and think about. I'm not sure it's because it's the world capital of live music, but Austin offers us this intellectual space to pursue our own kind of intellectual heresy.

I've written in the past about the difference between intelligence and journalism, and I won't belabor that topic further here today. Suffice it to say that journalism is not our business. Our business is forecasting, a discipline that compels us to understand and chart the future. But to do so we invest at least as much energy in understanding the past. The interplay between the two is best articulated by an old quote usually, if mistakenly, attributed to Mark Twain: "History may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes."

And so we come to the juncture in our own history, now stretching some 20 years. We realize that among the many things upon which we must improve, better communication with our readers is paramount. Hence "Stratforium," an arena in which I, and sometimes others, will periodically try to pull back the curtain on who we are, what we do and how we do it.

In one sense, little has changed since 1996, when our founder, the author and historian George Friedman, created the company. Our team of about 100 people in Austin and around the world has as its mission an ongoing examination of the global geopolitical system. Against the backdrop of geography — that ultimate constraint — we examine political, military and economic power. Add these up with astute methodology and you can determine the broad trends driving the interaction of nations. This is what we forecast, by the decade, by the half-decade, by the year, by the quarter and by the day.

Against the backdrop of geography — that ultimate constraint — we examine political, military and economic power. Add these up with astute methodology and you can determine the broad trends driving the interaction of nations.

To do this, we bathe in information and data streams, all of which are publicly available. We use all manner of computational tools, from media aggregating databases to geospatial mapping software. But chiefly, Stratfor is the product of the keen minds of the analytical team — a group that includes analysts, writers, editors, researchers and artists. The "intelligence" of the human mind is what yields the "geopolitical intelligence" that we sell to subscribers around the world.

In another sense, however, much is rapidly changing at Stratfor, and it is for this reason I want to open as practical a conversation as possible with our subscribers. As many readers know, George Friedman has left Stratfor to pursue other endeavors, including a soon-to-be-published book, following on the three or four that have already topped The New York Times Best Sellers list. If I can be allowed a personal aside, George and his wife, Meredith, remain among my closest personal friends — family, really. I see him frequently, and he often looks over my shoulder as I labor forward in stewardship of his legacy.

Late last year, the company was recapitalized through a partnership with Teakwood, a Dallas-based investment fund. We have a new CEO, David Sikora, who has a string of successful technology ventures under his belt. Dave is now with us in this time of global convergence of media and technology, and he is taking us in many new digital directions.

You may have noticed, for example, that the look, feel and "user experience," in the parlance of new media, have begun to change. The new colors are just the start of many new features that I believe will enhance the value for our subscribers. Atop the Stratfor platform, we will be launching new sector-specific products and services this fall. And in early 2017, we anticipate a rather complete overhaul of the basic daily report.

Readers have certainly noticed the contributions of our outside editorial board, chaired by Jay Ogilvy, a co-founder of the Global Business Network. Just a few of the new contributors include Philip Bobbitt, author of The Shield of Achilles, among other books, and Parag Khanna, author of Connectography. Soon I'll have more to tell you about this fast-evolving project, too.

We are also exploring new avenues of collaboration with like-minded partners. An early iteration of this was the series on the direction of the global economy by South African macroeconomics firm ETM Analytics. More such ventures will follow.

Are there challenges as we evolve? Of course. The collapsing half-life between generations of technology is a topic we examine in geopolitics, but it can also be the bane of a digital publishing company. As with other things, the fix is coming.

But to get back to the point of this essay, we are indeed a unique company. And I realize it is that very uniqueness that makes us difficult to pin down, open as we are to so many interpretations. Some even go outside the lines of my metaphorical Rorschach test, seeing in Stratfor vivid apparitions that simply don't exist. So be it. Intellectual heresy is not for the faint of heart, and our loyal readers know this.

But we can be more open, transparent and communicative. Help me out. Drop me a line. Or as we say in Texas, y'all keep in touch.


David Judson
image of globe

Connected Content

Article Search