This is Your Brain on CI – Part 1 of 3


July 7, 2015

When you are doing competitive intelligence (CI), you are relying on your intelligence to drive your research and analysis. But your brain, like any other part of your body, needs proper care and conditioning. What follows here and in the next 2 parts are a few notes on what works for me – and for others as well. Your suggestions and comments are, of course, very welcome.

First, let me deal with relaxing your mind.

Look at the things that you do to relax, such as reading and games. I’m a great believer that you should continually change these things. By that, I mean changing the “subject matter” of the material you are reading (or the games that you are playing) for something that’s new and different.

With respect to reading, my practice is to change magazine subscriptions on a regular basis. So I stop reading the Economist when a subscription ends, instead of just renewing it, even though I really like it.  Then I start reading another magazine that it entirely different in terms of slant or subject. Think about it. For example, if you regularly read only Bloomberg BusinessWeek try switching to Smithsonian magazine. For The Atlantic switch out to National Review or Biblical Archaeology Review.

This holds true with books. Read mysteries? Try histories. Read archeology? Try psychology. The same is true with games. Do you do crossword puzzles? What about Sudoku? Anagrams?

You are still relaxing but doing it differently. And try doing it, that is the reading, the games, etc., in different places. So your relaxation is still real, but different.

Faster is not necessarily better

March 28, 2014

An article in the recent Smithsonian magazine talked about speed in thinking[1]. It mentioned a psychology experiment where volunteers had to answer questions that were either typed clearly in a very easy-to-read font or were slightly blurred and therefore harder to read. This study concluded that “people who had to work harder ended up processing the text more deeply and responding to the questions [about the text] more accurately.”

Somewhat related to that was an interview on one of the cable news channels (I do not recall which) to the effect that recent studies show that people being guided by a “gut feeling” or “hunch” were likely to be right about 54% of the time. To put it another way, their odds of being right in such a speedy “analysis” were only slightly higher than what would be expected by sheer random chance. Yet, in such cases, those so guided usually have a very high (and unjustified) level of confidence in their conclusion.

In the ongoing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 search, every day we see the newest “sightings” of wreckage replaced by others, in another area of the sea, rendering prior “knowledge” moot.

So what does this mean for competitive intelligence? It means that the easy research, the easy to do analysis, or the “obvious” conclusion is not necessarily going to get you to the truth. In fact, the harder you have to work to dig out the facts and then to make sense of them, the more likely it is that you will get it right. As the same article said. “When we want a well-reasoned decision, we say think long and hard, which isn’t all that different from think slow.”


[1] “This month we’re thinking about Speed”, Smithsonian, April 2014, 15-16.

Intelligence and Chess

February 27, 2014

 A recent article in Smithsonian magazine, “Kasparov’s Gambit[1]”, resurrects the age-old linkage between chess and global politics, in this case adding computer intelligence to the mix. We all know the archetype to which this refers – the chess wizard, usually but not always Russian, calculating out intricate moves on the world stage using the skills developed in playing chess.

That is all well and good, but I do not think the chess is the appropriate game analogy for people to look to for intelligence, particularly for competitive intelligence.

What do I say that? Because in chess, both sides start out equally positioned and empowered. Because in chess, there are known limits to what you can do and what you cannot do. Because in chess, often there is a third-party judges whose decisions are final. And, more importantly, in chess we know who our opponent is, even if it is a computer, and we often know all of the opponent’s past games, and knowing any more about our opponent rarely if ever increases our ability to defeat that opponent.

In competitive intelligence, it is extremely unlikely that your competitor is equal to you. In competitive intelligence, you are governed by the rules that you and your employer (or client) set, in addition to rules established by law and custom. It is never clear whether your opponent is governed by the same rules and if so, whether or not a competitor complies with them (but, usually they do). In competitive intelligence, there are no third-party judges make final decisions. And in competitive intelligence, the more you learn about your competitor and, conversely the less you can keep your competitor from learning about you, the better you will ultimately do.

So what is a good game analogy for CI? Poker, scrabble, paint ball, baseball, mahjong? Any suggestions?

[1] Smithsonian, March 2014, 21-5.

Watch the (Wo)man Behind the Curtain (Part 2)

Watch the (Wo)man Behind the Curtain (Part 2)

January 18, 2013

Looking at the people who make the organization you are targeting, particularly recent changes, can be extremely telling as I noted in a previous blog.  The governing principle even is that new hires are hired for reason. And the reason is not just replacing a departing officer or employee, although that is usually an initiating factor.

An individual is hired because of what he or she is expected to do, and that expectation is based on that individual’s previous track record within the organization or other organizations. For example, an individual with a strong background in finance who comes in as chief operating officer can be expected to play to his or her strength, finance, regardless of the other demands of the position.

In fact at the higher levels of the organization, new hires can be expected to try to replicate the successes that brought them the current job, their successes at a former employer or another place in the organization. In addition, and perhaps even more significantly, they can be expected to try to try to handle subjects or issues that gave them difficulties in the past. To some people, this transferred into an affirmative act – taking on a new challenge that, to them, resembles a past failure, with the clear intent that this time “it will be different”. For others, it means avoiding taking any course of action that was a “failure” for them in the past.

If so this sounds somewhat psychological that is because it is. If you’re going to look at people in an organization, you should have some working knowledge of psychology. Now whether your particular flavor is Jung or Freud or someone else is up to you. But I strongly suggest you develop some knowledge of the basics of psychology. When I started in competitive intelligence, I did not have that in my background. But my partner and significantly better half, Carolyn Vella, suggested it would be useful. She was dead right.

Also, out of that suggestion, there is a larger lesson: you cannot and should not stop learning. If you expect to do well in your career, whether or not it is CI, keep your mind open and working. Read new and different things. Subscribe to – and READ — magazines that are a little off your beaten track. Ever read Smithsonian, The Economist, or National Geographic? Try one for a year. Then move to another. If you cannot think outside of the box, then try to make the box you think inside of larger.