The Big Picture (3 of 7)

September 25, 2017

Our newest book, Competitive Intelligence Rescue – Getting It Right, has several cases that highlight issues in creating or adding a new competitive intelligence unit. In our experience, there are usually 7 major elements involved in that process:

  • financial and personnel
  • guidelines
  • training
  • internal marketing
  • networking
  • customers and their needs, and
  • products and feedback.

I will deal briefly with each issue over time. I have already discussed the financial and personnel issues as well as guidelines.

Here are my comments (brief) on some major training issues:

  • Every member of the CI team as well as ambitious DIYers, should get some sort of CI training at least once a year.  That can be almost anything: attending a local association’s chapter meeting, a national conference, or a commercial workshop, so long as CI is the main topic of the session(s) you attend.
  • Communication skills deserve training – internal or external. Your analysis is not worth much if you cannot communicate its importance and significance to others.
  • Regular training, say every three years, on legal and ethical issues is a must. If you can get someone from your legal team to participate. Also, the CI team should be conducting training on these issues for its internal customers. Aware customers make it easier to stay on the straight and narrow.
  • Over time, additional training on various analytical techniques will not only upgrade your personal skill set, but it will help you in determining your internal customers’ needs, in selecting the right targets, and in selecting and managing your Ci products and outputs. Aim at doing this every couple of years.
  • General management issues cannot be overlooked. They include things like succession planning, assessing employee performance, creating and managing networks, and well as on managing your internal clients’ expectations. Hopefully your firm already offers these to you and your peers. Take them.

This is not the first time I have written on these issues: Carolyn Vella and dealt with them in The Manager’s Guide to Competitive Intelligence. Also, please check out my past blogs under the Category “Education and Training’, and look at these three, for more on this:

CI Skills and Education

Lessons for CI from Games

How can you learn something new?

No One is Right All of the Time

September 9, 2017

The hurricane activity of the past weeks in the US is still sinking in for all of us, in particular the many residents of the damaged areas. They are in our prayers.

But for those of us in CI, there is a lesson.

The forecasters, private and governmental, were unable to predict the track of either Irma or Harvey more than 48 hours out. Yet they were working with dozen, perhaps hundreds of programs, vast amounts of computer power, decades of records, and real time data from space, hurricane penetrating aircraft, and ocean buoys.


Because real life is never 100% predicable. Keep that in mind when you find that you cannot totally predict a competitor’s reactions to your new product launch – or whatever.

Close enough is as much as humans (and computers) can come in the real world.


Competitive Intelligence and the Circular Economy

August 28, 2017

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog dealing with the “circular economy”. Since then, I have done some digging into this topic and conclude that (a) the circular economy is, not might be, coming, and (b) competitive intelligence as we know for firms that are a part of this will have to undergo major changes as a result.

One consequence is that I have written a longer piece on the subject, which you might enjoy reading. A brief extract may interest you:

“The rise of the CE [Circular Economy] will necessarily have major impacts on competitive and strategic intelligence. They appear to fall into 4 broad categories:

  • A change in the stature of CI.
  • A reduction in [CI] employment opportunities with firms in the CE, while increasing it in firms outside of the CE.
  • Greater opportunities for those trained in defensive intelligence.
  • A need for new skills and education for intelligence personnel working in the CE.”

The full paper is “Ten years gone, holdin’ on, ten years gone ”: The Circular Economy and the Evolutionary Trajectory of the Competitive Intelligence Profession.

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)

Happy Holidays!

I will be back online the week of January 2, 2017.

Asking the Right Questions

November 23, 2015

I just finished rereading a provocative book, Freakonomics[1]. When I finished, I realized it posited a situation similar to that raised by Superforecasting[2]. That is, to get an answer a problem, particularly a vexing one, you must ask the right question. And, as these books show, many times we do not do that.

What does that mean to those of us in CI? It means stepping back from “the problem” and clearing our head before we start our research and analysis.

Let me give an example from current headlines on terrorism. The US has bombing campaign underway against ISIS, and has been using killer drones to “decapitate” various terrorist groups.

Looking at them, it appears that they are the answers to the question “How can we destroy terrorist activity using aviation resources?” The answer is bombing and drones. Simple. But should the real questions be, instead,

Can we completely destroy terrorist activity using airborne resources? Have we or anyone else ever done that before?

Is decapitation (by any means) an effective way to destroy a terrorist group? When and where has that happened? Did it last?

What we have, it appears, is the generation of a military strategy based on Mark Twain’s observation: “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” So, to a nation with the largest air force in the world and the greatest number of drones, eliminating terrorism looks like an air power problem.

This blinder effect is not limited to governments. It exists, to a great degree, in the business world as well. Take for example a question that might occur to you: How can my firm increase its market share in our largest product sector without reducing profit margins? Wrong question – you have already assumed away several significant questions:

Should my firm increase its market share? Is there a risk of increased anti-trust supervision, or of betting the company’s future by increasing its reliance on one product sector? How are those VHSs working out for you?

Can we actually hold profit margins at the current level? Are they now artificially high? Is this a market that is trending towards commoditization, so that profit margins will inevitably decline, making any quest for steady margins a fool’s errand?

The lesson for those of us in CI is clear: by carefully articulating and then methodically reviewing the questions we ask (or are asked by others), we can and must avoid (or at least diminish) the impact of our own and our firm’s built-in blinders in our research and analysis. Remember, by asking the wrong questions, you will never get the right answers.

[1] Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakeconomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, William Morrow, 2006 (Revised and expanded edition).

[2] Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, Crown Publishing, New York, 2015, which I recently discussed at


November 19, 2015


There will be no blog this week in light of the tragedies in Paris. Pray for the victims and their families and that our leaders will do everything they can to protect all of us.