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Establishing a Baseline? Step One.

You can’t find the anomaly, that terrorist or criminal that you want to stop, unless you can clearly establish your baseline.  It sounds so easy.  Just figure out what is normal for that area.  So give it a shot, go into any restaurant, shop, or café and try to verbalize what you think your baseline is.  Even internally, as instructors, we have seen the results when the guidance given is that vague.  You can expect the answer to be a profound, “Yeah this looks normal.”  I don’t mind that answer, it is a starting point, but it is far from being sufficient.  We need to be able to break it down to its roots.

We stress the importance of establishing a baseline in our class, because only then can you go out and actively hunt for your anomaly.  The baseline is the foundation.  If you can’t communicate what your baseline is for any given area, your ability to understand what has changed will be greatly diminished.  Everyone has to be working off of the same baseline.

So where do we begin?  I say start by finding the pattern.  Take a Starbucks as an example.  What is the customer experience?  Every customer should follow a similar pattern.  A customer walks in, orients himself to the layout of the store, and then moves directly to the line to place his order.  Once his order is placed and he has paid, he now moves to the far end of the counter where the drink orders are handed to the customers.  Once he has received his drink he has two options, he either walks out of the store or he finds an open table and sits down.  If he chooses to sit, he will eventually get up and leave.

While that seems very simple and straightforward, that is the customer experience from start to finish inside of a Starbucks.  Before we even observe a single domain, we can quickly identify those people who are anomalies by the patterns they either abide by or do not abide by.  If a person comes in and immediately sits down, is he an anomaly?  Absolutely.  It doesn’t mean he is a terrorist, it just means you need to keep watching him to try and deduce why he didn’t order anything, or contact him to find out why he didn’t order.

Once you have this framework of a pattern, you can now begin to use the domains to quantify what your baseline is: identifying your anchor points and habitual areas, the natural lines of drift that people use to move around, the proxemic separation between groups that didn’t come together and the separation between people who did.  You can break down body language at each phase, figuring out if people are comfortable or uncomfortable, dominant or submissive.  All of these are questions to ask yourself while you are trying to establish a baseline.

You can spend a great deal of time in an area and really dive into what the baseline is, but without the framework of the pattern or the process, your efforts and observations will be scattered.  You need a system to organize your observations and to more efficiently assess the situation.

Patterns make us predictable. Find the pattern and you will find your baseline.

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1 Comment

  • Nathan Bush

    I recently found an anomaly in the baseline of a gas station. A car pulled up with two males. No one got out to pump gas or to pay at the pump. After about a minute the car slowly pulled off driving past me and stopped at the entrance. I made eye contact with the passenger because something seemed strange. The car then came around and stopped in the same spot as earlier but now a paying customer’s car was parked. The customer got out of her car and went to pay for gas, leaving the driver door open and the car running with a small child in the back seat. The passenger of the suspicious car jumped out attempting to open the victim’s passenger side door, saw the child and jumped back into his car and they pulled off.

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