A Suggestion


I have finished rereading very well-done book which carefully indicates to the reader the differences among hard facts, highly likely facts, and conclusions based on an analysis of incomplete evidence.

Warning – the book deals with the Holocaust.

The book is Richard Breitman’s, The Architect of Genocide – Himmler and the Final Solution[1]. Specifically, I am referring to Chapter 8 (“Cleansing the New Empire”), and Chapter 9 (“Heydrich’s Plan”)[2].

In those chapters, Professor Breitman analyzes everything from meeting notes to travel schedules, and from the parallel use of language to the way in which orders were communicated and followed by the Nazis in organizing and conducting the brutal murders of millions. In so doing, he clearly delineates “incontestable facts” from his own “deductions”[3] in a style that those of us in intelligence would do well to emulate.

I recommend reading this, if only for that careful style.

If you prefer another topic with a similar style, I can suggest any of Ron Chernow’s wonderful biographies, including Washington and Hamilton. He also clearly separates hard facts (“it happened”) from his interpretation or analyses (“probably”, “likely”).

[1] Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

[2] Pp. 167-206.

[3] As he puts it, “Not everyone will agree with all my deductions – which are identified are deductions, not incontestable facts.” Op. cit., p. 32.

Everything Old is New Again

July 10, 2018

In the past, I have written about the benefits of making sure that your secondary CI research includes digging into local newspapers, including “Locally Sourced and Organic” and “Be Careful What You Wish For”.

But, I should note that this idea is not new. In fact, it at least 150 years old!

During the Civil War, General U.S. Grant was not always in direct communication with all his generals. In the case of General Sherman’s march through the South, he relied on reports in – yes – local newspapers in Richmond, VA, which was about 125 miles from his headquarters in Washington, DC. These Confederate papers evidently included stories about fighting which enabled Grant to figure out where Sherman was and how well he was doing.

But all good things must come to an end:

“…Richmond newspapers [eventually] awoke to the realization the [General] Grant traced [General] Sherman’s mysterious movements [fighting in the South after the fall of Atlanta] through their own columns.”[1]

[1] Ron Chernow, Grant, Penguin Press, NY, 2017, p. 473..

Freedom (?) of Information

June 21, 2018

Last week, Bloomberg Businessweek published an interesting piece on US immigration policy[1]. In it were the details of a dispute between ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a “small research group at Syracuse University”.

That dispute involves ICE records dealing with deportations and detainers. After providing this data to TRAC under the FOIA (US Freedom Of Information Act), ICE stopped last year.

Its reason? The “records TRAC has asked for don’t exist in the form requested and [ICE] says producing responses would require searching its database, a process [ICE] claims amounts to creating new records”. And ICE says that under FOIA, it is not required to create new records. So more data for TRAC.

In response, a  lawyer for TRAC asserts “That just can’t be right, because that’s basically true of all [US] government records right now.” Depending on how the litigation comes out, the FOIA may become increasingly useless to researchers, including those of us in CI.

Maybe this is just one agency out of sync, a one-off situation? No, rather it is just the gradual continuation of a long-term trend that access to government records under Federal and State law is being narrowed for any number of reasons, some good, some not so good. For example, in 2007, Carolyn Vella and I wrote “As the war on terrorism continues, we can expect that access to more and more data currently held by the government will be impacted. Most likely, it will be subject to the typical back and forth of politics.” [2]

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Or,”The more that changes, the more it’s the same thing.“

[1] “ICE’s Disappearing Data”, Bloomberg Businessweek, June 18, 2018, pp. 42-44.

[2] “Competitive Intelligence, Corporate Security and the War on Terrorism” CIO.com – Business Technology Leadership (October 30, 2007).

Be Careful What You Wish For

June 12, 2018

Our local newspaper, the Reading Eagle, has a weekly supplement, Business Weekly.

I want to dissect a piece there (without mentioning the name of the firm because that is not relevant) to show you what can sometimes be found on private companies in local newspapers.

This piece focuses on a private local company that has moved into new quarters.[1] Here is what it disclosed:

  • The size of its former manufacturing facility.
  • The location of the new space for the firm’s factory and office.
  • The size of that new facility and how much space is dedicated to production there.
  • The cost of renovating the new facility, as well as the source of a public loan for that work. Often the files associated with such loans can contain other competitively sensitive data.
  • Data on a solar power, including what percentage of the plant’s total energy the 50 thousand watt array provides (which lets you calculate its total power consumption).
  • What kind of injection molding equipment the plant uses.
  • A statement that an additional machine is on order to join to the current (specified) number already on site.
  • What its customer surveys show about the reasons customers pay a significant premium for the firm’s products.
  • Year over year sales increase percentages for the past 7 years. Fortunately, the base amount is not specified, but one year might be available from other sources. That would allow you to calculate the current sales levels.
  • The company’s plans to change all its packaging.

Think of this as a research suggestion as well as a warning to companies to be careful about what they reveal to get local media coverage.[2]

[1] Jeff McGaw, “Brush with success”, Reading Eagle Business Weekly, June 12, 2018, pp. 8-11.

[2] Interestingly, our new book, Competitive Intelligence Rescue: Getting It Right, contain a case where a private firm finds that a published interview with the CEO is the source of leaked competitively sensitive data.

More on Millennials

June 8, 2018

The other evening, I attended a chapter meeting of SCIP. To tell the truth, I was there to plug our new book, Competitive intelligence Rescue: Getting It Right. We had a very fluid discussion among those attending, all very experienced in competitive intelligence.

One of the topics that emerged was Millennials. For the sake of privacy, I will not attribute specific comments to anyone. Besides, some of this contains my interpretation of the impact and meaning of these personal observations.

Here are some of the observations and my comments on them:

  • Millennials seem to believe that they can easily evaluate the veritable sea of data because they swim in it every day. That often means that they are not interested in a formal analysis of what that data means, i.e., intelligence, but rely on their interpretations, made on the fly. That, in turn, means that they are relatively self-centered in their assessments.
  • Millennials are cautious about or even suspicious of what they see and hear, being raised in a world surrounded by data that is very often unverified and sometimes inherently questionable. That data ranges from advertising to news sources. Oddly, they are not so cautioous about what they receive from personal sources, which has its own downside.
  • Millennials tend to gravitate to secondary data when making decisions, since they have the Internet at hand (literally), a magical source of secondary data. But they shy away from accessing primary research data, that is data developed from interviews of relative strangers. That is because they are reluctant to talk with others, particularly those who are not already a part of their own social or work environments. Many strongly prefer to use email or texts to telephone or face-to-face communications. That, of course, means the immediate loss of the context provided by listening for inflections, pauses, as well as watching body language.

All of this bodes poorly for the creation, use, and impact of CI in their day-to-day business activities.

Emerging Problems for Elicitation Interviewers

May 30, 2018

A recent newspaper article[1] discussed the ongoing “death of voicemail”, particularly in the case of millennials. Now, I have previously pontificated on some the difficulties of communicating with millennials, Millennials and Competitive Intelligence (2 parts)[2], but this takes it to a new level.

If the trend this fascinating article describes holds, the death of voice mail will have a significant impact on competitive intelligence research’s elicitation interviews. One key element of that is that you, the researcher, are able to get access to someone you have never met, whose business email and/or personal email accounts you do not know, to talk with them.

Consider these quotes from this interesting article:

“When people leave me voice messages, I just delete them without even checking. If they want to get hold of me, they can text me.”

“This is a large generalization, but they [millennials] don’t feel that comfortable in face-to-face spoken interaction or its derivative over the phone.”

“In the last three to five years the majority of phone calls in my world are booked ahead of time, just like a meeting.”

“Fewer and fewer people are going to have that skill [talking on the phone].”

As an aside, the people and patterns described in this article do not bode well for those very millennials described therein. Why? Ok, how do you get to know new people in your own business or neighborhood or graduating class when you only respond, by email or text, to a message on your voice mail (but never listening to the voice mail), only so long as you already know that person’s phone numbers and email addresses. A very static circle, isn’t it?

I wonder what would happen if the EVP called one of these people to ask questions about a report he/she did, and never received a reply because the employee did not recognize the EVP’s cell number, so he/she just deleted the message without listening to it. Think about it.

[1] ETHAN BARON, “How the death of voicemail is changing the way we connect”, The [San Jose] Mercury News, May 13, 2018.

[2] https://diy-ci.com/2015/09/10/millennials-and-competitive-intelligence-part-1-of-2/ and https://diy-ci.com/2015/09/15/millennials-and-competitive-intelligence-part-2-of-2/.

Trend Spotting for Early Warning Systems

May 16, 2018

Question: How do you spot trends that could impact your business BEFORE you read about them in your trade publications – or worse, run head first into them.

Answer: Keep your eyes open for trends in other industries, like the rise of automation in the restaurant industry as pressures develop to increase hourly employee wages.

Let me give you four examples looking at emerging trends taken from publications I read in the same week:

  • Artificial intelligence (in the business travel industry): “Will AI Redefine Buyer-Supplier Dynamics”, Business Travel News, April 23, 2018, 22-4.
  • Commoditization in the (independent meeting planning industry): ” J.T. Long, “Preparing for a Leaner Commission World”, Smart meetings.com, May 2018, 40-42.
  • Unbundling businesses (in technology and chemicals) “World’s Greatest Leaders”, Fortune, May 3, 2018
  • Increases in lobbying costs to protect prices (in pharmaceuticals) Jay Hancock and Elizabeth Lucas:, “Drug Prices Are Increasing. So Is Big Pharma Lobbying”, Fortune, May 3, 2018, 16.

One lesson, or perhaps an underlying truth: change affects everyone, just at different times and in different ways. If you can identify what kind of wave may be coming by seeing what is happening to others, you improve your chances of spotting it earlier.