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.

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 Rules for Doing Your Own CI Research and Analysis

October 13, 2016

I want to share 10 basic rules with you DIYers which you should keep in mind when doing your own competitive intelligence research and analysis:

  1. Be honest – admit that you have not always been focused on what your competitors are doing: Even if you have been trying to keep up with what the competition is doing, your efforts have almost certainly been sporadic and incomplete. If you are not really keeping up, you are probably just assuming you know what the competition is doing. Never assume you know what your competitor is doing, and, more importantly, never assume you know what it is planning to do!
  2. Know who your real competitors are: They may not be who you think they are. Ask your customers what other firms else they considered before they chose you. Those should be considered competitors, too. And keep an eye on your partners, suppliers and even major customers. They can, and often do, quickly turn into competitors.
  3. Ask lots of questions: If a customer leaves, find out why he/she is leaving and where he/she is going. Keep track of the answers you get. You may find a pattern that warns you of emerging competitors or new initiatives. Then you know what to focus on.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the competition — as they really are – today: Take the time to visit and revisit their stores, study their facilities (if possible), check out their web sites, and find out who owns them. Regularly track data about your competitors in the public domain – press releases, newsletters, new government filings, etc.
  5. When you study your competitors, never assume they see things the way you do: Your competitors have their own vision of the marketplace – and of your firm. Even if you think that vision is dead wrong, always keep in mind that they are guided by it and will operate in accord with it, not on how you think they should behave.
  6. Decide what’s important – and what is not: There are some things you can’t do anything about no matter how much you know about them. Focus on supporting important decision-making, not on merely satisfying your own curiosity.
  7. Don’t assume there is nothing you can do, even if you know what your competitors are up to: Effective CI does not always provide an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage, such as launching a new product. But sometimes it provides a vital early warning of a threat that can help you survive!
  8. Don’t get pressured into trying to measure exactly what CI is doing all of the time: While there are many aspects of CI where you can measure the impact, you cannot attach a number to everything CI can do for you. For example, what is the value of knowing a competitor will beat you to market or knowing that a competitor’s planned initiative will run into problems because the construction of the plant supporting is behind schedule because it still lacks some key permits?
  9. Be realistic: With the increasing focus on security on all fronts, some sources of raw data CI that were available in the past are no longer open to the public. Others may not be in the future. Always keep these changes and possible changes in mind
  10. Do it right – or don’t do it at all: CI is an ethical, legal activity. Never let yourself get pressured into doing anything that is not totally ethical and legal. There is never any good reason to be unethical or illegal.

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.

More on Your Mind and Work

August 2, 2016

I have, from time to time, engaged in small rants against the concept that multitasking and other forms of extreme mental work are not only not great ideas, they are in fact bad ideas. And I have also posted several related blogs on the positive benefits of taking mental breaks from work by doing other things to perform better back at work. (If you want to find them, search for “multitasking” and “your brain” in this blog).

I have come across additional support for my position which I will share with you:

From Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal: “Some of mankind’s greatest revelations have come only when scientists, researchers, even artists, have taken necessary breaks or detours after intensive concentration: the mind at play can sometimes energize the mind that’s at wits’ end.”[1]

From the Sage of Omaha Warren Buffett: ““Read 500 pages like this [pointing to a stack of books nearby] every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”[2]

From founding father Benjamin Franklin: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”[3]

From Verne Harnish, author of Scaling Up: “Nothing creative will come out of your efforts if you don’t allow your best ideas to incubate…You’ll be surprised by what comes out of your brain if you give it a rest sometimes.”[4]

Of course, as an intelligence specialist, you should always be aware how easy it is to find data to support your own preconceptions. VBG!

[1] Alan Levy, The Wiesenthal File, 1993, p. 123.

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-merle/the-reading-habits-of-ult_b_9688130.html (accessed 8//2/2016).

[3] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/benjaminfr133951.html (accessed 8/2/2016).

[4] “5 Critical Performance Metrics”, Fortune, August 1, 2016, p. 32. I thank the author for directing my attention to Franklin and Buffett.

DIY and Silos

April 1, 2016

I am in the process of reading a very challenging book, Big Boys, Big Egos and Strategic intelligence by Joseph HA.M. Rodenberg and Antoinette Rijsenbilt (2015). You will see a review of it when I have finished it.

I was taken by a discussion in the middle of the book as it may apply to the DIYers. The authors divide the competitive intelligence continuum as they see it into 4 overlapping parts:

  • Competitive data collection
  • Industry & competitive analysis
  • Competitive intelligence
  • Strategic intelligence.

The authors note that the first 2 are the “responsibility of departments/individuals dealing with market research, marketing services, marketing intelligence, market intelligence, marketing, customer insights, market insights, and other nice buzzwords.”[1]

To me, and I suspect to my readers, this also includes DIYers, that is, those who are not CI professionals, but need and provide the CI necessary for their own work. The authors’ observation about these people, operating within the intelligence continuum, applies equally to all DIYers. They observe that “[s]enior managers are not really reached [with their intelligence].” In other words, DIYers may produce actionable intelligence – but keep it to themselves.

To truly benefit their team and organization, the DIYers must find a way to share their CI insights with others in the firm, particularly those engaged in providing CI on a full-time basis. They must not silo that intelligence. While what they DIYer has found may seem fragmentary to the full-time CI professional, it does represent the result of diligent research and analysis which can make the full-time CI professional’s job easier and ultimately benefit the entire firm.

Let me give you an example from my own experience. A very large local firm had its engineering research team co-located at its local manufacturing facility, a few miles from headquarters. A corporate manager, seeking to bring CI into the firm, started an intelligence audit – he began to interview key potential customers and internal data sources.

Early on, he spoke with the director of engineering research. The research director asked why the firm need to set up a CI function. The corporate manager said, well, in case our largest competitor decides to get into applying an emerging technology he named, “We need to know that”. The director replied, “They are already looking into that”. When asked “Are you sure?”, he explained that he knew this from the direction of technical papers presented and published by the competitor’s researchers and from job interviews with employees seeking to leave the competitor or who had already left.

The corporate manager asked, in amazement, why the director did not tell anyone at the corporate level about this. The engineering research director’s response: “I did not know anyone else was interested.” Silos.

[1] Page. 113.