Tag – You’re It!

February 16, 2017

I was reading the most recent issue of Successful Meetings. Why, you ask? Because if I am going to work – or protect – a meeting, conference or trade show with respect to CI, I should how they are being run and how they are changing.

Anyway, it had an interesting article for people who are being told that they are now doing meeting planning in addition to everything else they do[1]. Taking it as inspiration, here are a couple of tips for DIYers who are (suddenly) told “Well, you know all about competitive intelligence, so why don’t you provide us with some in addition to everything else you are doing”:

  1. Be prepared to get going; While this may not have happened to you yet, the operative word here is “yet”. While it is not always true for CI teams that “If you build it, they will come”, when you are doing your own CI, eventually others will (a) figure out that you are doing this, and (b) some will realize that the CI is adding value. Then, it is but one step to being drafted, so prepare for it. Look at the next 8 tips and see where you stand now with respect to each one.
  2. Take advantage of training and education:: Take a hard look at any groups of which you are a member. Then check on groups that your organization or other employees are members of. Have their newsletters and magazines dealt with CI? If so, start checking the latest issues. Have they offered sessions on CI or related areas (strategic intelligence, war gaming, scenario development, long-range scanning)? If so, see if you can take a webinar of a past session. Also, check the agendas of their forth-coming meetings for sessions on CI that you can attend. There are also a variety of groups that run formal training programs and even annual sessions on CI. Among them are the Institute for Competitive Intelligence[2] and the Fuld-Gilad-Herring Academy of Competitive Intelligence. Check them and others out.
  3. Stay current: There are numerous websites and blogs – such as this one – that you should tap into for current developments and discussions about CI. Staying current on CI is now a part of your job – it should have been at least a small part already.
  4. Identify internal and external partners: Here is where your networking is key. If you already have an internal network, use it. If not, start developing one now. Look around for potential external partners for your future research: think trade associations, affiliates and subsidiaries, academic research centers, suppliers, customers, and government agencies.
  5. Find out the reasons for the assignments: To do your best CI research and analysis, you must know not only what they (whoever they are) want, but, more importantly, what they intend to do with it. Knowing that, you may often be able to suggest an alternative line of research or research target that is faster or cheaper or more reliable.
  6. Show ROI: It helps to try to show the return on your investments (ROI) in CI. For example, if your analysis shows that a planned new venture is very, very risky, casually note that the15 hours of work you did will save the organization $6.2 million it would have spent on going forward with a failing venture.
  7. Be smart about non-ROI statistics: ROI is not all that your CI can provide and not the only thing to point to. How about time? If your CI doubles the time that your organization now has to respond to a competitor’s forthcoming new pricing regime, when compared with the last time this happened, tell people.[3]
  8. Improve your existing skills and add new ones: You already are doing some CI so you have some basic knowledge – I hope. So first, work on improving your existing third-party skills, such as working with others, managing meetings, and communication, both written and oral. Good CI that is not properly communicated is not useful or likely to be used. Then work on adding new skills such as interviewing third parties, team management, improved technical expertise on what your firm does, and working meetings and conventions.
  9. Promote your value and CI’s value: Do not be shy about what you are doing and what value the (new) CI is bringing to your team/organization. Diplomatically use phrases such as “Our blind spots were…”, “Filling in the following gaps…”, “Providing us with an opportunity we were not fully aware of…”, and “Avoiding a previously unexpected threat…”.

[1] Andrea Doyle, “Planning for Double Duty”, Successful Meetings, February 2017, pp. 12-15.

[2] In the interest of full disclosure, I am on the faculty of ICI.

[3] For more on this, see John J. McGonagle and Carolyn M. Vella, Bottom Line Competitive Intelligence, Praeger 2002.


Circular Economy?

There is a lot of talk in business and educational circles about the concept of the “circular economy”. As befits such a description, there are a variety of overlapping definitions. Here is one:

“A circular economy is one that is restorative and regenerative by design, and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles.”[1]

Why am I mentioning this in a blog on CI? Because there is a key lesson to be found in the debate about a process which tries to more fully integrate corporate operations and to enable management to see what is going on, both in the supply chain and in the distribution chain, while incorporating the management of critical environmental issues. And all of this is to be seamless.

What is the lesson? The lesson is that none of the debates on this concept (or related concepts) has, at least according to my personal research, ever mentioned competitive (or business or competitor or strategic) intelligence. Think about it. CI is missing from this debate. Why?

Probably because CI is still just bolted onto businesses. In general, it is not incorporated into overall business processes. Look at the classic CI process for evidence of this: someone must affirmatively decide that he/she/they need intelligence and then formally assign the task elsewhere. The recipient then produces an answer or answers on a specific schedule. Of course, if any question is not spot on, then the research and analysis is probably not either. If the research and intelligence is too late, or is rejected or ignored by the internal client for her/his own reasons then the CI is useless – or more accurately not used.

This is not the case with the DIYers of CI or with those few CI programs where the CI person or team has the ability – and incentives – to define the intelligence needs and to generate the necessary research and analysis on their own initiative. In those cases, the end-user/customer and analyst are, at least initially, the same. And, in the case of the DIYer, there is no “fatal disconnect” between the decision-maker and the analyst.

To me, that seems to mean that at least one future of CI lies in that direction, joining in the circular economy process. How do we do that? Your thoughts?

[1] Ellen MacArthur Foundation, https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy, accessed 2/8/17.


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.


Insider Trading and CI

December 8, 2016

One of the issues that (erroneously) arises when those unfamiliar with competitive intelligence hear about it is that it might be “insider trading”. The existence of this concept has caused unnecessary confusion, about which I have previously written.[1] Insider trading in fact refers to people trading in the stock of public companies using so-called insider information, which is illegal under federal law. CI is not the same thing. But there is significant confusion which is best exemplified by the erroneous assertion that developing CI on public companies sometime violates the US securities laws.

A recent US Supreme Court decision may help non-CI practitioners make a clear distinction between CI, developing intelligence on competitors, using legal and ethical methods, and insider trading, using non-public “material” information to trade in the stock of a public company.

First, the unanimous decision[2], written by Justice Alito, succinctly defined insider trading:

“Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Rule 10b–5 prohibit undisclosed trading on inside corporate information by individuals who are under a duty of trust and confidence that prohibits them from secretly using such information for their personal advantage.”

Second, the Court pointed out that this duty extends beyond a person who has a “duty of trust”, that is an employee or third party who knows that the information is “inside corporate information” and must be kept confidential. It must be used for trading stock in that company:

“Individuals under this duty may face criminal and civil liability for trading on inside information (unless they make appropriate disclosures ahead of time). These persons also may not tip inside information to others for trading. The tippee acquires the tipper’s duty to disclose or abstain from trading if the tippee knows the information was disclosed in breach of the tipper’s duty, and the tippee may commit securities fraud by trading in disregard of that knowledge. In Dirks v. SEC, 463 U. S. 646 (1983), this Court explained that a tippee’s liability for trading on inside information hinges on whether the tipper breached a fiduciary duty by disclosing the information. A tipper breaches such a fiduciary duty, we held, when the tipper discloses the inside information for a personal benefit. And, we went on to say, a jury can infer a personal benefit—and thus a breach of the tipper’s duty—where the tipper receives something of value in exchange for the tip or ‘makes a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend.’”

What does all of this mean to those of us in CI?

  • First, data obtained from public sources is not insider information, as it was not acquired from a person with “a duty of trust”.
  • Second, any data you obtain in developing CI from someone employed by a public company is not insider information unless, I repeat unless, that information was transmitted for trading purposes. Also, the person providing the insider information must receive something of value in exchange for that data. Or as the Court put it, “the disclosure of confidential information without personal benefit is not enough.”
  • Third, if the person receiving such data does not trade on it, there is no insider trading.
  • Fourth, any analysis you develop from this kind of data is not insider information, even if it produces a conclusion equivalent to some piece of insider information.

So, aggressive and insightful CI, legally and ethically developed, cannot be a violation of the US securities laws.

[1] https://diy-ci.com/2012/06/21/insider-information-and-competitive-intelligence-2/; https://diy-ci.com/2015/08/18/competitively-sensitive-data/; https://diy-ci.com/2014/04/23/talk-to-listen-in-on-and-watch-your-competitors/.

[2] Bassam v. United States, https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-628_m6ho.pdf.


Lessons from the Election?

November 11, 2016

No, I am not going to rail (or boast) about the election results. What I think we should look at carefully is the evident widespread failure of polling and of the predictions based on the political polls. By one estimate, 90% of all political polls were wrong. And interestingly, that is not new, not even in the past 12 months. Think back to Brexit, as well as to both several of the Republican and Democrat primaries, where polls and related predictions also failed badly.

So? It should serve as a caution to all of those involved in CI. Let me explain:

  • The polls included assumptions that past turnout and voting performance were a predictor of future performance. Didn’t the pollsters ever run into the disclaimer that the securities industry always uses: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results”?
  • Some of the analysts, when looking at the polls, ignored an academic’s recent study that, and I think I have this right, that the usual margin of error of 3 points for each side of the polls was, when getting closer to election, at 6 points, or twice as large as claimed by the pollsters. That meant that these late polls were, essentially, becoming more worthless as the election came closer. Did they react to that? No, they continued to predict based on what models had worked in the past for them. A real “blind spot”, wouldn’t you say?
  • There is some indication that the polling may have been impacted by the blanket refusal of some groups – or subgroups – to participate in the polling, or if they participated, to “blow smoke” at the pollsters. What did the pollsters do? Evidently they projected the behavior of these absent or underrepresented groups by reference to the behavior of rest of the electorate. There was no discernible effort to figure out why these groups were under-represented, how big they were, and what that meant to these data holes. By doing that, they failed to account for what former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously called the “unknown unknowns”. They assumed that what they had learned from those who could be massaged to cover those who refused to be polled. “Mirror imaging” of a dangerous sort?

For those of us in CI analysis, remember that what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, what was true yesterday may not be true tomorrow, and that predicting what people, individually or in groups, will do is, to say the least, fraught with peril.


Less Competition? Less CI?

September 27, 2016

In a previous blog, I questioned whether what some are calling a notable decline in competition in many US industries has impacted competitive intelligence. I think it may have. Recently, The Economist magazine presented some additional indications that this decline in competition is widespread, has numerous causes, and a variety of impacts:

  • In one column, the author looks at several papers dealing with concentrated ownership of US public companies. The author indicates that these papers reach some curious (my word) conclusions:
    • “From [the perspective of big asset managers that take large stakes in nearly all of the dominant firms in an industry], the best way to generate portfolio returns might be for rivals to treat each other with kid gloves.”
    • “[Institutional] fund-appointed board members could simply refrain from urging conservative CEOs to compete aggressively, or CEOs might anyway conclude that their big shareholders would prefer peace and profits.”[1]
  • In a special report in the same issue, Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal is quoted as saying “Competition is for losers”, evidently referring to the giant firms in Silicon Valley.[2]
  • In the same piece, a side bar notes, sadly, that, “American business history has been defined by periods of intense competition followed by long periods of consolidation. This digital revolution is likely to repeat that pattern, but on a global scale”, riffing on a quote that after the Civil War, American business was “‘ten years of competition and 90 years of oligopoly”. [3]

Does all of this now, or will all of this soon, impact CI? I think so. Do you?

[1]Free Exchange: Stealth socialism”, The Economist, September 17, 2016, p. 73.

[2]Special Report: The Rise of the Superstars”, The Economist, September 17, 2016, pp. 1,3.

[3]What goes around” in “Special Report: The rise of the Superstars”, The Economist, September 17, 2016, p. 2.


Does Anyone Actually DIY CI? (Part 2)

July 19, 2016

This blog follows on my blog of June 20, 2016 on the same topic. Since then, I have come across a couple more interesting mentions, again in issues of Fortune, detailing where CI techniques are being applied by teams not in the CI business. These are a couple of very big players, but it is not traditional CI. It is DIY CI.

In the first case, the article opens discussing P&G’s new Retail Innovation Center. That Center

“aims to tell P&G’s story to its major customers. There are video case studies of disrupters…. There are mocked-up shelves of both P&G’s and competitors’ products and rooms set up to show P&G items in their intended habitats…. An enormous screen…allows users to click on stories showing how new technologies and marketing strategies are used…. None of the hundreds of examples are P&G’s own innovations.[1]

The second one involves Citigroup. Discussing a special team created to deal with the challenge of the “fintech”, the article details the “skunkworks” operation Citigroup has set up:

“On one wall there’s a five-by-10-foot chart listing all of Citi’s new fintech competitors and which of the megabank’s business lines each startup puts in jeopardy – from payments to commercial lending to wealth management.”

In addition to the competitor chart on the wall, the article notes that the team’s CEO has 2 competitor payment apps on her smart phone, as well as a stock-gifting app from a third competitor. In addition, she “has apps of five traditional banks and a brokerage firm…. Is it ok for the head of Citi FinTech to admit that she uses the competition’s products? Absolutely, says Cox [the CEO]….[2]

Is all this just ok? No. It is absolutely necessary.

[1] Jennifer Reingold, “Can P&G Finds Its Aim Again?”, Fortune June 15, 2016, p. 174

[2] Stephen Gandel, “Citigroup Does Fintech”, Fortune, July 1, 2016, pp. 58-59.