Vacation Notice

December 16. 2014


My next blog will be in the week of January 5, 2015. Have a very happy holiday season!

What you hear is not what you always get

December 12, 2014

As I’ve indicated before, before beginning primary search in a competitive intelligence project, it is important to conduct and conclude, as much as possible, your secondary research.

Secondary research work is very often viewed as merely a “collect and compile” process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whoever is collecting and then analyzing secondary materials has to be sensitive to things like false confirmation, as well as the real sourcing of the data that they are reviewing.

Now, if you are dealing with a trade industry publication, you can be pretty well certain that most of information about a target in the article or table was provided by the target itself. From there you have to decide whether or not you want to treat that as wholly reliable and accurate – or not.

But in dealing with other sources, predominantly general news sources, we tend to rely on the overall reputation of the source, such as BBC or the New York Times. However, a recent article in my local newspaper points out that our broadcast news sources, when it comes to non-US news, may not even be coming from the “source” that broadcast it.

Ben Dalton, now with World Learning, recently discussed with the World Affairs Council of Greater Reading (PA) how the news media covers global conflicts[1]. He pointed out that many news organizations have reduced (or even eliminated – my observation) foreign coverage budgets. This means that they now rely on outside sources for their foreign coverage. He pointed out that there are wide variety of organizations, largely NGOs, providing such reporting, as well as freelancers or even stringers, that is staff not regularly and fully associated with the broadcast organization.

Dalton pointed out problems with such sources:

“While there are nonprofits that are increasingly capturing compelling stories, the primary goal of these agencies is advocacy.… If they’re covering specific international stories it is in their interest to do so.”

In some countries, Dalton indicated, reporters, including of course freelancers and stringers, face kidnapping, being held for ransom, or even assassination. Certainly these factors color what they are able to report on and exactly how they report it.

The bottom line here is that no longer when we are looking at global news stories should we just rely on the reputation of the “source”. We have to dig further, and find out who is really providing the “story” – and why – before we can go further.

[1] Bruce R. Posten, “Media coverage of global conflicts addressed”, Reading Eagle, Dec. 11, 2014, B2.

Strategic Analysis? – Is there such a thing?

December 2, 2014

I recently finished reading an interesting book, Intelligence and Surprise Attack: Failure and Success from Pearl Harbor to 9/11 and Beyond[1]. In that book, the author, Professor Dahl, to my mind is obliquely questioning the value so-called strategic intelligence/early warning (hereinafter strategic intelligence) on the basis that strategic intelligence is by almost definition not actionable and therefore, while viewed as important, is, in practice, little used by decision-makers. That is a startling conclusion or finding, depending on your point of view, for those of us in competitive intelligence, coming from the world of military and political intelligence.

But this finding may provide us with a potential answer the puzzling problem of why so much is written about strategic intelligence, but so few companies actually appear to practice its successfully for any sustained period of time.

If Prof. Dahl is correct, then, in competitive intelligence, strategic intelligence has two real problems:

  1. It is almost by definition not actionable: it necessarily lacks the “who, what, where, why, how, and when” (or at least most of them) necessary to meet the needs of management for being actionable.
  2. Prof. Dahl also finds that the reason end-users do not act on strategic intelligence is that it lacks a critical element: “the collection of very precise intelligence that convinces enables a decision-maker to take the actions needed….”[2] In my words, it is not tactical enough for decision-makers to try to make a decision. Their bad, not the analyst’s.

To put another way, let us say we are dealing not with strategic intelligence, but long-range weather forecasting. Your firm operates a new, large facility in Atlantic City New Jersey. The National Weather Service has predicted that the next season will be an extremely active and dangerous hurricane season with, say, six hurricanes making landfall in the United States. There is your strategic intelligence. What does your management do about this? Probably little other than looking around to see that they are prepared for a hurricane – that is, they are taking precautions based on the last one or two that passed by, not on a hit by a future Super Storm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina.

Now let us say the same National Weather Service is today tracking a new hurricane moving up from the Gulf of Mexico, and that the cone of probability now indicates that it could well make landfall near or at Atlantic City. There is your tactical intelligence. You know what: a specific hurricane. You know where: Atlantic City. You know when: in two – three days. You know why: hurricane season. You know how (intense): look at the probability cone. Now what does management do about this? It sees it has 1 to 2 days to react, so it executes that pre-existing plan – hoping that it is enough. Does it close down the plant?  Move out employees? Secure (or move) all of the chemicals, products etc. at the plant? What can it do now?

The failure of the strategic intelligence lies not just in its failure to be actionable, that is tactical, but also in the failure of management to buy into it and take at least some new actions, or prepare for new actions.

So, can strategic intelligence ever work in business?

[1] By Erik J. Dahl. Georgetown University press, Washington DC, 2013, 277 pages. I have just reviewed it and will link this blog with the review when it is published.

[2] p. 2.