CI Skills and Education

A couple of additional thoughts on CI education/training:

  • Merely learning about CI “on the fly” or “as we go” is almost never sufficient. In fact, it is rarely even marginally satisfactory. That does not have to happen, since there are many good sources for improving your research skills and honing your analytical talents.
  • Education with respect to research and analysis should never stop. But the requirements for such continuing education differ with these two steps.
    • Education on research, both sources and techniques, should be ongoing. There are great books, blogs, training courses, webinars, and sessions at annual meetings of all sorts of organizations that can help. If you cannot find them, you are not looking. Education on research should be ongoing. No one can stop doing this – no one no matter how skilled or experienced.
    • Education on analysis is different. That is because intelligence analysis is not so much a skill that can be acquired, but a talent that can be nurtured and honed. Education on analysis should also never stop, but it is significantly different from education on research. Yes, you should look to the same sources as are available for education on research, but you must go further, deeper, and wider. To properly nurture and hone such analytical skills as you possess, you must continually expose yourself to a variety of intellectual challenges and eye-opening data. Try reading different books and magazines from what you do now; then change that next year and the year after: move from history to news to archeology to science fiction to psychology, etc.

Like Water?

January 18, 2017

We all struggle for metaphors and analogies to explain competitive intelligence. And rightly, we reject “spying” and “espionage”. I now put forth, for your consideration, water. Water? Why?

Consider these points:

  • Water, while seemingly free everywhere, can be consumed only when it has been collected and processed. It cannot usually be safely consumed without that. And that takes time and money.
    • Information, while seemingly free everywhere, can be used only when it has been collected and processed. It cannot usually be safely relied on without that. And that takes time and money.
  • We always need water, even when we do not feel like we need it.
    • Businesses always need CI, even when they do not feel like they need it.
  • When we feel like we need water, sometimes it is not just recognizing a need, but a necessity And, sometimes, when we recognize that need, it is too late.
    • When our firm feels like it needs CI, sometimes it is not just recognizing a need, but a necessity. And, sometimes, when it recognizes that need, it is too late.
  • Water is critical to life as we know it. We often do not appreciate that.
    • CI critical to the survival and success of business as we know it. Executives often do not appreciate that.
  • Where water is controlled or restricted, people are controlled.
    • When information is controlled or restricted, people and businesses are controlled.

How versus Why

January 12, 2017

As most of you know by now, I am a big advocate of improving your CI skills by broadening your knowledge and experience. To that end, I am a voracious reader. For the Holidays, my significantly better, Carolyn Vella, founding partner of Helicon, gave me a “strange” book, something she does every year. This year’s gift book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind[1], sheds some light on a current US intelligence story.

The relevant details (as of now) are that the US Intelligence Community recently reported that (a) Russia tried to interfere in the US election for President through hacking, disinformation, and other means and (b) Russia’s “goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential president”, and further that “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”[2]

Note that this intelligence assessment has two parts, one the “how” and the other the “why”. There is a significant difference between them, in intelligence terms, and in how they have been received in the political arena.

Professor Harari writes that

“What is the difference between describing ‘how’ and explaining ‘why’? To describe ’how’ means to reconstruct the series of specific event that led from one point to another. To explain ‘why’ means to find casual connections that account for the occurrence of this particular series events to the exclusion of all others.”[3]

In the case of this intelligence assessment, this difference explains why there is less dispute about part (a), the “how” of the assessment, since it involves a narrative detailing specific events. However, part (b), the ‘why’, is more controversial because the non-classified assessment provided no evidence about the “casual connections” underlying that assessment leading to these conclusions to the exclusion of all others.”[4]. In other words, just laying out the “how” is not enough to support your determination of the “why”. You must always do more.

Keep this in mind when doing your own CI analysis.

[1] Yuval Noah Harari, Harper, 2015.

[2] “Intelligence Community Assessment: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”, ICA 2017-01D, 6 January 2017.

[3] Sapiens, 238.

[4] To be fair, there may be good reasons why this supporting detail could not be released. However, protecting sources and methods is not an issue in CI.

CP and CI

January 7, 2017

A recent report by Bloomberg News indicated that the US Justice Department has been “looking for the past two years into allegations of collusion among [generic drug] manufacturers.” The apparent reason is detailed in a study from a firm that “works with law firms to bring litigation against companies”. That study suggested such collusion, citing

“90 medicines whose prices were raised steeply and almost simultaneously by at least two manufacturers, even though there was no obvious reason for the increase, such as greater manufacturing costs.” [1]

But, even the authors of that report concede that the mere existence of such increases does not prove the kind of collusion which would violate US antitrust laws. To have a violation, there must be other “plus factors” involved in the pricing changes, converting what is known to antitrust lawyers as “conscious parallelism” (CP) into a legal violation.[2]

Well, you might say, what else besides agreements to set prices would explain these “almost simultaneous” price changes? How about aggressive and effective competitive intelligence (CI) rapidly alerting one competitor to the pricing changes initiated by another direct competitor in a very constrained market space allowing a rapid exploitation?

But doesn’t that mean that CI contributes to violating the antitrust laws? No. As was said by a US Antitrust Division field office chief in 1989 (!), CI, he said,

“enables companies to take appropriate actions, thus improving their positions. Consequently, a company’s [competitive] intelligence department supplying intelligence to its own management would be viewed as ‘pro-competitive’ and therefore a legitimate activity, not directly affected by antitrust laws.”[3]

Just a thought.

[1] “Widespread drug price increases point to collusion, study finds”,

[2] “Conscious Parallelism: Can it turn a corner?” By Robert A. Jablon,

[3] “Panel on Legal and Ethical Concerns of Conducting Intelligence – Summary of Spring Conference Panel Presentations by Jan Herring, The Futures Group, Panel Moderator”, Competitive Intelligencer, Vol. 4, Issue 2, August 1989, pp. 2, 18. (emphasis in the original)