Outside versus Inside CI Help

February 25, 2016

One ongoing question is whether/when to go outside for competitive intelligence versus DIYing it. I am not going to get into the whole issue here, but I just want to deal with two aspects of it, familiarity versus diversity.

In the case of an overload, going to a source which is closely related to or even connected to you is often preferable. What do I mean by that? It could be a CI unit which serves a different part of your firm, or an outside firm which includes individuals who used to work for your firm, or which has worked for your firm so long it is almost another department. The familiarity speeds the collective effort. And in some cases, the extra effort may be invaluable.

Getting past the issues of your overload, an outside CI firm also possesses what we call expertise. Or as a Nobel Prize winner put it (good credential, no?), “An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject and how to avoid them.[1]” So, if you have a knotty problem, an outside firm may be a valuable source of expertise you presently lack or can never replicate.

Remember, when you are seeking expertise as opposed to extra minds, you should be looking for something/someone, well, different from you. That means that closely related is not a benefit. As noted in The Economist recently, “There is…evidence to support the commonsense idea that encountering people with different ideas and different perspectives can boost creativity.”[2]

[1] Werner Heisenberg, Nobel Prize winner 1932.

[2] Schumpeter, “Diversity fatigue”, The Economist, February 13, 2016, p. 67.

Guest Blog: Conducting Ethical Competitive Intelligence – Fortune 500 Companies

February 16, 2016

In today’s complex and evolving business world, the importance of ensuring the ethical gathering and collecting of competitive intelligence (CI) must adhere to the highest standards in accordance with legal laws and regulatory guidelines, industry standards, and established internal codes of conduct and compliance requirements. This framework serves as a starting point for those having to address ethical CI guidelines and internal business standards.

The following are the major areas that should be addressed in the ethical conduct of both primary and secondary research:

1)  Internal business code of conduct, ethics and compliance align with ethical CI guidelines.

2)  Legal Department review and formal certification of ethical CI guidelines (Annual event).

3)  All internal employees, executives, part-time, staff, and other members of the business complete annual training on ethical CI guidelines (Formal training records are maintained by Human Resources Department).

4)  3rd party firms, vendors, suppliers, consultants, subject matter experts (SMEs), and others that support, conduct or involved with business adhere to internal ethical CI guidelines (Formal records are maintained).

5)  Gathering, assembling, maintaining, and dissemination of all information, data, insights, reports, materials and other documents accomplished in accordance with internal information management processes and internal CI guidelines.

6)  Formal contracts with 3rd party firms, consultants and others involved with primary/ and secondary research have specific guidance and written instructions outlining internal/external CI methodologies for each project.

7)  Assigned single point of contact within the internal business that is responsible for the day-to-day operations and overall supervision of primary and secondary research projects (ie. CI manager, capture manager, project manager, etc.) to ensure the highest ethical code of conduct and in accordance with internal ethical CI guidelines.

8)  Pre-project, ongoing review, and post-review/evaluation on CI projects with 3rd party firms, consultants, SMEs and internal employees.

9)  Awareness training and education of all employees in ethical CI and the growing risk/threats to businesses.

10) Ensure success and enjoy the experience in legally and ethically formulating strategic/tactical insights.


This was presented by Garn Anderson to the SCIP Philadelphia/Delaware Chapter Meeting “Ethics in Competitive Intelligence” January 26, 2016. Garn Anderson is recognized thought leader in strategic competitive intelligence, and a leading expert in business and competitive intelligence with over 18-years of corporate experience in conducting complex global primary research and risk threat mitigation. He has helped a number of Fortune 500 companies establish a formal CI function and in their development of ethical guidelines. He is currently principal and head analyst at i3 Consulting LLC.


February 10, 2016

Previously, I have written about CI analysis, with tips on what to do and not to do to keep your mind sharp and to do it well. There is more to add. Here, I want to talk about that vital contemporary skill – multi-tasking.

Multi-tasking means you have developed the ability to talk on the phone while working on a memo and reading incoming emails copied to you. It is a critical skill for surviving corporate information overload. Mastering it makes you more productive. Right? Wrong!

Let’s start with what is killing business productivity. I would direct you to a great article on the continuing slow-down of business decision-making – “Revving Up Your Corporate RPMs” by Tom Monahan.[1] This piece points out that “[m]ost business activity is slowing down, not accelerating”. As proof, Monahan points to documented increases in things like the average time to hire to a new employee, to deliver an IT project, or to close a business-to-business sale.

Why the slowdowns? Among the reasons he gives are the growth in “control and risk-management functions, which are too poorly coordinated” as well as the rise of “transformation” which puts a business into “a state of near paralysis” in the name of improving it. Don’t believe that? Try to get a purchase order from many firms in less than 30 days, or to get any decision on anything while a firm is undergoing a “strategic review”.

Finally, Monahan points to technology which assists in adding stick-um to the process of decision-making. How? Think 14 people copied on emails, or working in “collaborative” companies. Monahan’s research finds that “60% of employees must consult with at least 10 colleagues each day just to get their jobs done.”

Now, look at multi-tasking. As I have noted earlier, millennials seen particularly addicted to multi-tasking. For those of us in CI, that means that “if you can get their attention during the combined IM, email or the telephone conversations, you are more likely to be able to elicit at least one or two pieces of competitively useful information because they are not paying full attention to what they are saying”. That is, their attention is diminished by multi-tasking, as is their productivity.

Now imagine a firm filled with people who think that they have to be multi-taskers to survive the daily consequences of lack of coordination, temporary corporate paralysis and/or excessive collaboration. Visualize them facing the pressure to review all of those emails they are copied on or “collaborating” with 17 associates in order to come to a single decision. Is multi-tasking contributing to more stick-um or is it just another unfortunate result? Does it matter? As for the CI analytical process (and anything else that requires serious concentration), stay as far away from multi-tasking as you can. Uni-task.

[1] Fortune February 1, 2016, https://diy-ci.com/2015/07/23/this-is-your-brain-on-ci-part-3-of-3/.

Company Policies on Collecting Competitive Intelligence (part 3)

February 2, 2016

In my prior two blogs on this[1], I discussed written policies dealing with competitive intelligence. But, the unwritten rules at your business can be the most important to you.  What underlies most of them is one word – embarrassment.  To summarize the concept, do not do anything that could cause concern to your employer or bring unwanted attention to it.  Whether or not there is a written policy that actually says this, the cold facts are that taking any such action puts your job at immediate risk.  In that regard, let me relate a short story:

  • Several years ago one of the largest consumer goods firms in the US, which had a well-regarded competitive intelligence unit, authorized a research project against a global competitor. The details are not precisely clear, but it appears that the first CI firm with which the company contracted then brought in a second group of firms as subcontractors, and some of these CI subcontractors in turn subcontracted some of their work to other CI firms.  That meant that some individuals working directly on the assignment were three levels away from the client’s supervision (or perhaps even knowledge).  The results were predictably catastrophic:  One of the subcontractors was accused, by the target company, of attempting to steal its garbage in order to go through it later (“dumpster dumping”)
  • Events then moved rather quickly. The CEO of the client firm flew across the world to meet with the CEO of the target firm.  The end result was that
    • the client firm paid the target a substantial settlement, believed to be over US$10 million;
    • the client firm also agreed with the target that it would not enter a certain market niche for a period of years, the very niche that was the focus of the competitive intelligence task;
    • on the client firm’s CEO’s return to headquarters, three or four competitive intelligence personnel at the company were terminated;
    • a senior CI manager at that firm “retired” rather quickly; and
    • the client firm purged its approved contractor list, removing every firm that was involved in this case, even the CI firm that claimed it blew the whistle on the misdeeds of others.

The client firm paid a rather substantial price a failure of its management and a failure by others to exercise common sense. Keep in mind the words of a CI pioneer, Professor Stevan Dedijer:

“Intelligence today is about using the collective knowledge of the organization to reach an advantageous position in industry. Spying is dying – only idiots resort to these kinds of shady activities. Only companies with an inadequate intelligence capability and with inferior knowledge-acquisition strategies seek to obtain information by illegal or unethical means”.

[1] https://diy-ci.com/2016/01/19/company-policies-on-collecting-competitive-intelligence-part-1/ and https://diy-ci.com/2016/01/26/company-policies-on-collecting-competitive-intelligence-part-2/ .