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.

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.

Connecting Dots

November 2, 2016

Over the last two weeks, I first reviewed AFIO’s Guide to the Study of Intelligence and then dealt with a couple of important lessons from that book. In this blog, I want to point out yet another one. This one deals with analysis[1] – always a subject of interest.

Carl Ford, a retired intelligence officer, provides a pointed comment about analysis:

“Intelligence collection’s scatter-shot nature also makes it easy for analysts to fall into the ‘connecting the dots’ fallacy. Just because one has a dot does not mean it is, or can be, connected to other dots.”

When collecting your data, particularly if you are a DIYer, you must refrain, not an easy task, from jumping to conclusions about what that new dot means. It may mean nothing – it may mean something. But if you immediately categorize it as one or the other, you are engaging in weak – at best – analysis. In such cases, your own blind spots, biases, group think, etc. can quickly take over, causing your already weak analysis to become flawed analysis.

Not only should analysts keep this in mind, but their clients should be educated on this as well. This is particularly critical for those CI clients who demand regular reporting if “what you have found so far”. They, just as the CI analyst, can often be swayed by what dot is first found, even when that dot is later found to lack relevance or even credibility.

[1] Carl Ford, “My Perspective on Intelligence Support of Foreign Policy”, pp. 159, 160.

CI and Decision-making

October 25, 2016

Last week, I reviewed AFIO’s Guide to the Study of Intelligence (2016). This week, I want to deal with some of the important lessons that this book has for CI DIYers and for CI professionals in general. These particular lessons deal with what intelligence, including CI, actually should provide to decision makers.

One chapter, “Intelligence Analysis: A Guide to its Study”[1] notes that

“Wise policymakers understand that they cannot know all of the possible outcomes of the decisions they face. Intelligence analysis serves to bound their uncertainty, to give policymakers a better sense of what might or might not happen, based on known conditions, the actors involved, and the decisions made….’{B]ounding uncertainty’ is not the same thing as telling someone what will happen.” (p. 291).

In one of the very first chapters, “Decision Advantage: The Why of Intelligence”, the two authors there note that[2]

“Intelligence provides more than decision advantage. Less evident – but absolutely critical and generally unrecognized – is that it can provide decision makers with decision confidence.” (p. 7, emphasis in the original).

For the CI community, these are important concepts to ponder, and then to communicate to your team and to your internal clients:

  • First, it is must be clear that competitive intelligence is not about predicting, with certainty, the future. Rather, it is about making predictions that make the decision-maker, the internal client, more comfortable in making necessary decisiona.
  • Second, at its best, CI is also designed to provide your firm with a decided decision advantage. So, determining that a competitor is likely to enter a new market that you are looking at can provide your firm with a decided decision advantage. How? Your firm can now make a decision about expansion with less uncertainty about the competitor’s own intentions towards that market.
  • Third, as for decision confidence, consider the power that your firm’s decision makers have coming from the fact that your competitor does not know that you have figured out its expansion plans.

So now, when thinking about CI, and, in particular when pitching it to your peers and to your internal customers, keep in mind all of these elements of CI – reducing decision uncertainty, providing decision advantage and delivering decision confidence.

[1] Mark Lowenthal, PhD., pp. 291-96.

[2] N. John MacGaffin III & Peter C. Oleson, M.A., pp. 13-20.

The Study of Intelligence

This is a review of AFIO’s Guide to the Study of Intelligence, Peter C. Oleson, Editor. Association of Former Intelligence Officers, Falls Church, VA, afio.com, 2016, 740 pages, $95.00.

First, a disclaimer. I am one of the 70 – yes 70 – authors contributing to this massive work.

AFIO’s Guide has been in the works for 6 years, and that kind of work shows. The book is a comprehensive and extremely readable look at the entire subject of intelligence and at teaching about it. It is not restricted to governmental intelligence – it is much broader than that, although many of its contributors are former government intelligence community members.

I said readable, and I really mean that. This book is aimed not only at those teaching about governmental intelligence, but also those teaching where intelligence is one topic of interest. To me that includes history, politics, foreign relations, civil rights, and civics among other subjects. As a history buff, I am enthralled by it.

Peter Oleson and the contributors have joined to provide not only a guide to teachers, but a guide to their students as well. At the end of each chapter, there is a short, well-selected reading list for more on the chapter’s subject. Also, scattered throughout are tips for teachers, such as suggested exercises and sources for additional original documents. The authors’ footnotes also provide leads to innumerable sources found on the internet. And the book closes with over 50 pages of valuable leads to information sources, popular books and more reading on intelligence.

I have taught competitive intelligence, and can say that several of the chapters in AFIO’s Guide would have been very valuable both to me and to my students. From a personal point of view, the book is fascinating. I suggest that we think of this both as a guide to those teaching the study of intelligence as well as a guide to those of us who wish to learn more about intelligence even on our own.

Whether online or hard copy (my choice), this is a first-rate read, and worth getting just for that. It is also an extremely valuable resource for anyone who teaching about intelligence and its impact on politics and government as well for those who would like to learn more about intelligence in general.

10 Commandments for DIYers

September 13, 2016

In 2007, the CIA released a paper to the public title “Fifteen Axioms for Intelligence Analysts”[1]. Taking this as an inspiration, I would like to propose my own 10 Commandments, ok, Suggestions, for DIYers. The reason I did not just repost this is that (a) I put a link to it in the footnote, and (b) it dealt with governmental analysts, not DIYers, who are in a very different environment, with very different skills, and needs.

Here goes:

  1. Always know what you are seeking — and why. In other words, what can you do, or decide, with the CI that you cannot do or decide on now? If it is not actionable, it is not CI.
  2. Aggressively seek out the data that you need if you think you need it to complete your analysis. Who is to say that you are wrong about that? If you got that data, and found it did not help, next time you will do even better and be more efficient.
  3. Network, network, network. 80% or more of what you need is probably in the hands or minds of your associates in your own firm. The next 10% may be found in your own network. You DO have a network, don’t you? Nurture it.
  4. Have confidence in your own analysis and develop confidence in your judgments based on that analysis. If you do not have confidence, who else will? If you have confidence, others will see that and respond positively.
  5. Do not be afraid of being wrong in your analyses. Everyone is wrong sometimes. If you are wrong, acknowledge it, figure out why, and move on. That is called growth and maturity.
  6. Don’t be afraid of being right. If you are, why are you still working there?
  7. They are not you, and never will be. Avoid mirror imaging your targets at any cost. That is one of the greatest traps in intelligence analysis.
  8. Don’t keep your findings to yourself. CI is more valuable when it reaches – and helps – more people.
  9. If everyone agrees with your findings, then there could be something wrong. Have all of you looked at the situation with the same institutional blinders? Perhaps.
  10. Don’t take your CI work too seriously, or let your CI work take you over. Yes, it is useful, and even interesting, but you also have a life. Enjoy that. Unlike our friends in government, your work will not prevent (or hasten) the end of times.

[1] Frank Watanabe, How To succeed in the DI: Fifteen Axioms for Intelligence Analysts, first posted May 8, 2007. https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/97unclass/axioms.html.

Your Prejudices and Their Prejudices

September 8, 2018

I am reading an excellent book[1] about intelligence assessment which highlights one of the major problems that all intelligence, including CI, has. That problem is the fact that it is created by human beings and then provided to other human beings for their use.

For example, the CI analyst must strive to provide intelligence, not just data. Why? Because “[i]nformation by itself is useless; it acquires value only through arrangement and interpretation.”[2] OK, that makes sense.

Well it is a human being that provides that arrangement and interpretation. But “interpretation is conditioned in many instances by the prejudices and attitudes of the analyst.” [3] So, the first problem in producing actionable CI is getting past the analyst’s, that is your, prejudices. If you are offended by the word prejudice, maybe you might prefer, blinders, blind spots, preconceptions, world view, etc. Anyway, you get the point.

Now, once you, as an analyst, have developed what you think is actionable CI, you have to get it to someone who will take that action. Often, we worry about the fundamental disconnect in CI, that is, the fact that the customer to whom the CI is provided does not have to act on it. But there is another, deeper, problem. of which that disconnect is only a small part.

The customer, or end-user, faces a similar problem as the analyst does. Consider this:

“Intelligence appraisal…involves not only the collection and analysis of information but also the processes which put findings at the disposal of policy-makers…. The capacity of human beings to deal with situations of vast complexity is very limited. The human mind needs a highly simplified ‘map’ of a situation if it is going to be capable of taking any action or making a decision. The Maps are highly subjective, generally being based on and springing from deeply held values.”[4]

In other words, your intelligence customer has his or her own prejudices (having “maps” sounds a lot nicer) which can prevent them from acting correctly, or even at all, on even the best, and least biased, intelligence.

And the situation can be worse for the DIYer. Why? Because the DIYer does not have the opportunity of running up against another’s prejudices, which might challenge the DIYer’s own.

Just being human can be a major problem in producing and using CI, can’t it?


[1] Ernest R. May (ed.), Knowing One’s Enemies: Intelligence Assessment before the Two World Wars, Princeton University Press, 1984.

[2] William C. Fuller, Jr., “The Russian Empire”, in Knowing One’s Enemies, p. 168.

[3] William C. Fuller, Jr., “The Russian Empire”, in Knowing One’s Enemies, p. 168.

[4] Quoting Robert R. Bowie, “Introduction”, in Knowing One’s Enemies, p. 4.