The Power of Seeing What is Not There

October 6, 2015

With all of my emphasis on elicitation interviews as a critical input to actionable competitive intelligence, I do not want you to think that I am denigrating secondary (aka desk) research. Such research is also a critical element. In fact, it is an essential predicate to doing your primary (aka human) research. In some cases, careful secondary research, done with a knowledgeable eye, can develop vital CI on its own. To support that, let me give an historical example:

“In 1942 G. N. Flerov, a young Soviet physicist serving in the [Soviet] air force…wrote to Stalin personally that he was convinced from a study of foreign scientific journals in the Voronezh University library that their silence about nuclear fission mean that an American project [to build a nuclear weapon] was underway.”[1]

Note two important things:

  1. This conclusion was drawn by a junior physicist, not a senior one. Flerov was only 29 at this time.[2]
  2. The (correct) conclusion was drawn by the absence of something, not by the presence of something. Flerov’s conclusion was that the absence of these scientific articles meant that research on this subject in the US had become classified. And that, in turn, meant that the US Government was trying to build the atomic bomb.[3]

As I have said before, don’t sell secondary research short. And before you jump into your primary research, make sure you have completed your secondary research. [4]

[1] Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1992, p. 903.




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