Just how likely?

August 27, 2012.

Competitive intelligence is filled with uncertainties.  There are a wide variety of them.  But the most common are these:

 The first is the certainty (or uncertainty) that you be able to get the intelligence that you need.  This is something you should talk about when you’re dealing with an outside contractor: how likely is it you’ll get the answers to the question that you posed?

The second is the uncertainty that the information you develop is accurate.  Here’s where reports using phrases like “it is highly likely that,” are subjected to criticism from those who live in the world of “hard facts” [Don’t get me started on that.  Amongst many subjects I have studied are mathematics and statistics where “facts” are just what would make them].

The third is the certainty that a competitor will, based on your analysis, take a future action or make a future decision. (And of course, contributing to this is the question whether or not a competitor will respond to your actions taken in anticipation of their probable action).

In each case you are exercising your best efforts to come to a solid conclusion.  But it is, after all, an uncertain world out there.  And if you have not found it already, you will soon find that you’re constantly pushed and prodded by others to come up with more specifics, more hard data, or more certainty.

Why?  Because management inevitably thinks “How can we act, or not act, on this if we are less than certain about what is going on or what will go on?”  The answer should be “What makes you so different from the rest of the world that you demand absolute certainty?”

Right now the news is filled with reports of the development of hurricane Isaac.  Turn on your TV, power up your iPhone, log on to the Weather channel and you will be told what is the projected near-term path of Isaac, be offered a variety of computer model projections for the long-range path, and be shown a wonderful color chart starting with a narrow focus and broadening out to a gentle curved tip showing the current and future path of Isaac.

And based on that path, the governors of several states along the Gulf of Mexico are asking for voluntary or even mandatory evacuations of hundreds of thousands of people.  In addition, they have mobilized tens of thousands of public safety officers and other first responders, and the federal government has put its emergency management on alert to respond to any damage from this hurricane, which has yet not made landfall.

And what are all those paths that we look at?  Do you know what the real name is? They are cones of uncertainty.  To put it too simply, they are a visual representation of the statistical likelihood that the hurricane, based on present conditions, will follow a certain path at certain wind speeds, within a certain likelihood.

Based on that, the lives of perhaps perhaps 1 million people are affected.  They are affected not only by the hurricane, but by the decisions that they, as well as public and private authorities, make after studying these zones of uncertainty.

If they can make and act on decisions based on uncertainties, why should your firm be different?

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