It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

August 21, 2017.


On August 1, I wrote about a lawsuit in California involving LinkedIn and a firm that analyzes workforce data “scraped” from the public profiles posted on LinkedIn, noting its potential impact on competitive intelligence, among other things..

There has been a development in that case. News reports indicate that the federal judge overseeing the case ordered LinkedIn to remove “technical blocks” it had installed to prevent hiQ from getting access to the publicly accessible information on LinkedIn’s users.

That does not mean that the case is over and that firms and individuals, including CI firms and DIYers, have nothing to worry about. This order is a preliminary injunction, which means that it stays in force while the underlying case goes to trial. And, LinkedIn has said that it may challenge this decision in the interim.

Brian Fung’s Washington Post article has an interesting analysis of this still pending case.

Stay tuned.

Ready, fire, aim

May 18, 2016

A recent syndicated article by Washington Post’s Sarah Halzack[1] dealt with the rise of fast-casual dining and its impact on the overall restaurant industry. Her conclusion is that, based on new industry research, fast-food and fast-casual restaurants “are essentially siloed”. In other words, with a few exceptions, their customers tend to stay with similar types of restaurants and do not cross-over.

But is that what the restaurants see? She says that they see instead headlines like “How Chipotle is killing McDonald’s”. With respect to that, she notes that Chipotle “might be better off not trying to emulate Taco Bell’s new breakfast menu, but instead trying to win over Panera customers.”

For those of us in competitive intelligence, we see here a classic case of skipping one of the first steps in a competitive intelligence assignment – determine who are your competitors – really!

In these cases, it seems that it took a third-party researcher to do the unthinkable – find out what a firm’s actual and potential customers see as its competitors, rather than what management or trade publications or strategy consultants or financial analysts know/guess is the situation.

You are warned.

[1] “What we get wrong when we talk about the fast-food wars”, Washington Post, May 11, 2016.


May 5, 2016

In the past, I have mentioned in passing that multitasking is not necessarily a valuable skill[1], but rather that it is an inefficient way to work. A recent piece in the Washington Post, “Multitasking is actually kind of a problem — for kids and adults”, has put additional focus on this.

How can we deal with this – given that our workplaces and our personal performance seems to demand that we multitask (excuse me, I just got an unimportant text on my smartphone I have to read). Now, where was I?

Oh yes, how should you deal with multitasking?

First, recognize that it is not a sign of efficiency, but rather it is becoming recognized as being very, very inefficient. When multitasking, you are not concentrating on any one of the tasks, but merely “handling” all of them.

Second, when you need to learn something, whether it is in a training session or in self-study, protect yourself, if possible isolate yourself, from multitasking. Why? Because research increasingly indicates that your ability to retain what you are supposed to be “studying” or “learning” while multitasking is diminished – possibly substantially.

Third, consider politeness. If you are talking with someone, not only is it inefficient to try and deal with an email or text, it is impolite. Rudeness is not a step on the path to learning to work with others. Maybe that is why multitasking is associated with other asocial attitudes.

Fourth, by using multitasking to handle a variety of items, you are not learning how to prioritize. If everything is important, then nothing is important. And your work product will eventually show that.

Fifth, learn to do things differently. Does every email you are copied on demand a reply or acknowledgement? If so, why? Is that a sign that everyone needs to be on board, or just a sign of another’s inefficiency brought out by multitasking? You know (oops excuse me, a just got a new “friend” on Facebook). Ok, now…yes. If you want to contact some people, it is too easy just to contact all of them, particularly if they are already on the email you are replying to or forwarding.

Sixth, separate business from personal. Use your business email only for business. Do not use it to set up a birthday party for a fellow employee, or to forward a joke, or to get a confirmation for an Amazon order. Set up and use a personal email for all non-business activities. Then check that only on your time, not on company time.

Seventh, do not get drawn into multitasking because others are doing it. It is bad enough that you dress yourself the way others do. Do not buy into this bad habit just because others cannot deal with their problems with it. Think of shutting off the smartphone during meetings. And, from a CI point of view, you should not be using your smartphone for any business communication while in public places where others can hear what you say or see what you see. Protect your firm’s information.

Eighth, structure and pace things out. Now, ideally, you should set some (reasonable) goals every day when you start work. If possible, try to aim at completing specific things by specific times. And do not allow yourself to be distracted while doing that. If you know you are aiming to finish a presentation by 10 AM, you are a lot less likely to allow a routine email to interrupt it. Also, take a break, at least a mental one, between tasks. Start by appreciating that you completed one task. Then do something to clear your mind. Maybe this is the time to check the inbox (not during a meeting with the new product development team). Or maybe you can play one hand of solitaire or Mahjong. Or just stand up and take a few steps.

In short, treat multitasking the way you would treat having to type on a smartphone while on a trampoline – it is the most inefficient way to work, and something to be avoided at all costs.

Sorry, that’s all I can do now – LinkedIn just sent me a note about how many people viewed my profile, so I must go and check who they are.

[1] ; ;


Presenters and Presentations

May 27, 2014

A while ago, Bloomberg BusinessWeek ran a piece title “Why Bezos Bought The Post”[1]. It contains a lesson for presenting your competitive intelligence findings. Brad Stone, the author, observed that

“[a] decade ago, frustrated with the pace of meetings at his company [Amazon], Bezos banished PowerPoint and proclaimed that all future Amazon meetings would begin with the presenter passing out a narrative document that outlined the topic being discussed. The first papers were endless, spanning dozens of pages, so Bezos decreed a six-page limit. Many of his colleagues still thought this managing-by-writing approach would fade. It didn’t.“


The lessons here are several:

First, PowerPoint is not the only way to convey information at a business meeting. In fact, there are those that argue, in my words not theirs, PowerPoint serves less to communicate than to conceal[2]. So, master other ways. Or at least practice what you want to say, relying on PowerPoint only as a reminder – to you of what you want to say and to the attendees of what you have said.

Second, present your case the way that senior management wants, simply because they may pay less attention to your message if they are not comfortable with the way it is delivered. If that means PowerPoint, it means PowerPoint.

Third, whatever means you employ, master the subject before your presentation. At the actual meeting, you may not be able to present what you want, when you want, and/or in the order you want. The form of your presentation is a tool; the content is the key. A corollary to this is that you should avoid presenting where the presentation and the work behind it were largely (or exclusively) done by someone else.

Fourth, shorter is almost always better than longer. Longer presentations may be more detailed, but that risks losing attention – as well as actual attendees.

[1] By Brad Stone, August 8, 2013,

[2] For more on that, see Edward R. Tufte, Beautiful Evidence, Graphics Press, LLC, 2006, p. 181: “Our comparison of various presentation tools in action indicate that PowerPoint is intellectually outperformed by alternative tools.”

….Pants on fire

September 4, 2012

As we move into the second week of our political conventions, the charges and counter charges of “misleading”, “misrepresentations”, “taken out of context” and “lies” are escalating and will continue to do so, seemingly without end.

Interestingly, political debate has generated a new set of players – the so-called fact-checkers. These include with its “pants on fire” rating, and the Washington Post’s  oft-quoted Pinocchio rating. There is even a commercial service,, which claims to clear ads placed by Super PACs which, surprisingly, the media does not have to run[1].

So what?

Well, one of the many devices that politicians and their supporters use, in campaigns and elsewhere, is to quote “expert” individuals and organizations to support their positions. And, if you check back on what the experts said, usually the reliance is (sort of) justified. However, that does not mean that the expert cited is (a) generally recognized as an independent expert, (b) unbiased, (c) relying on sound data, and (d) reasonably interpreting it.

The result is that these fact-checkers may have to go back more than 1 step in some cases to rate an assertion. And even then, they may be unwilling or unable to call a misstatement as a “lie”. Rather, they grade them over a range of implausibility. For example, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler’s scale runs from 1 Pinocchio (“Some shading of the facts. Selective telling of the truth. Some omissions and exaggerations, but no outright falsehoods.”) to 4 Pinocchios (“Whoppers”).

The lesson for those of us in competitive intelligence is that relying on a reported analysis, actually any third-party analysis, rather than on the underlying data is beset with problems. Did the person interpreting the data do so fairly? Did he have a point to make, or worse, an axe to grind? Was she “selective” in the analysis? And, even if that analysis is not a “whopper”, is it still heavily “shading the facts”? So, when an expert tells you what something means, (1) vet the expert to check on his/her objectivity and impartiality and (2) go back to the source yourself.

“Be able to notice all the confusion between fact and opinion that appears in the news.”, Marilyn vos Savant.

[1] – “How to Fight False Political Advertising”, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Sept./Oct. 2012.