Competitiveness and Innovation

IntelliJam: a fast ride through the past and future of corporate intelligence

24 Nov 2010  

I speak often with Eric Garland, a leading futurist, thinker, and blogger.  We typically have a free-ranging and—to us, at least—entertaining and enlightening conversation.

This time he recorded it.  Here are some of the notes we hit:

  • Businesses have always wanted and needed to know about each other’s activities.  Until the 20th century, this was mostly handled by direct conversations among business leaders.
  • The conditions that created the need for modern competitive intelligence in the US began to be laid by the anti-trust legislation of the early 20th century.  When businesses were legally prevented from sharing information, they had to devise some other way to obtain it.

  • The mid-century rise of TV as a business force gave rise to one of the immediate predecessors of competitive intelligence – market research.  Companies needed structured information about the world outside their borders, so they could increase the return on their advertising spending.
  • Another immediate predecessor of CI – financial securities research – was pioneered by Merrill Lynch and flourished during the latter half of the 20th century.
  • Corporate intelligence was first organized as a discipline in the mid-1980s, when the post-World War II world dominance by US business began to be challenged by Japan.  What was originally called the Society of Competitor Intelligence Professionals was soon amended to the Society of Competitive I.P. (the “-ive” implying a more global approach), and is now the Strategic and C.I.P.
  • Since the 1990s, data collection has become much easier, thanks mainly to the Internet. So easy, in fact, that the primary problem now is one of determining, of the massive amounts of data, what has relevance to the job of business—creating value for shareholders, customer, employees, and other constituents.
  • The Internet and other information technologies have vastly expanded our reach over information, but also can leave us without an organic connection to what it actually means for our organization.  Companies like Procter and Gamble have actively fought the tendency of their managers to sit behind walls of abstract information.
  • Knowledge producers (business analysts) and knowledge users (decision makers) are often separated by a cultural and professional gulf or barrier.  Bridging these barriers is one of the primary challenges of intelligence professionals.
  • The term “intelligence” does not translate easily to other languages and cultures, especially with people who have not worked with it before.  To some, it implies a self-serving smugness.   To others it connotes espionage.  Others find it just plain scary.
  • Intelligence professionals need to move away from “stick fetching” – reactive and responsive data collection – toward strategic intelligence, where they become the stewards and curators of information about trends and events in the outside world likely to indicate opportunities and threats to their enterprise.
  • Intelligence professionals need to become good at filtering things out and focusing management’s attention on those things that really matter.  In order to do this, they need to sensitize themselves to how the business actually works and creates value.
  • To that end, intelligence should go beyond delivering data and analysis, and should also be comfortable with proposing a constrained set of options, and even with making recommendations.
  • A rival or competitor is defined as any organization or product that attacks or diminishes the value of your own organization or product.  Competitive intelligence is too often defined narrowly to focus on direct rivals – and in so doing can miss the sea change disruptions that can change the economic rules that govern an industry.
  • Business leaders typically are faced with an “information archipelago” populated by analytic fiefdoms that are usually poorly coordinated, and even sometimes at odds with each other.  These can include Market Research, Competitive Intelligence, Business Strategy, the Corporate Library, and Information Technology.  These must be integrated into a more holistic strategic intelligence capability.
  • Your intelligence programming should be driven by your strategy.  A company like Apple actually creates its future, therefore has less need for traditional CI or even Market Research in order to be successful.
  • Good intelligence does not obviate the need for making good decisions.  You can get killed in the marketplace by slavishly imitating what your rivals are doing.  We call this “competitive myopia”.  (I’ll post more on this soon.)
  • The best research may not give you all the answers – but it should give you the strategic parameters around which decisions are needed.
  • Corporate intelligence as a discipline has had mixed success.  It has succeeded in inculcating competitive thinking, research, and analysis into many more business decisions than previously.  Its goal of creating a “profession” of corporate intelligence analysts, however, has not yet been realized.
  • It may be premature to seriously consider professional credentialing for business disciplines like intelligence, when business leaders themselves are not certified, licensed, or otherwise formally credentialed.  Even MBAs – which represent only about one-third of leading company CEOs – do not have to pass qualifying tests like doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals do.  While this creates a more open and integrative talent pool, on the other hand it leads to significant variations in quality and, frankly, “professionalism”.
  • Business strategy is now more about intelligence – continual flows of information and analysis about the outside, and about the future – than it is about “planning”.  Strategic planning is a Cold War-era concept that has diminished relevance for our fast-paced, turbulent world.

There’s more on these and related trends in Analyzing Your Competition, my pre-Internet (!) look at the why’s and how’s of corporate intelligence.  It’s long out of print, though.  (Maybe Google will scan it one of these days.)

For a very readable and useful overview  that is currently available, I enthusiastically recommend Competitive Intelligence Advantage by Seena Sharp. Its lessons are down-to-earth, practical, and easy to apply.

2 Responses

  1. Seena Sharp says:

    This concise, articulate synopsis of your one hour session should be required reading for all senior executives and entrepreneurs, particularly your comments about strategic intelligence and good decisions. You can’t have either one without proper due diligence. Even a bit of objective and current intelligence would significantly improve decisions. Let’s organize an intelligence rally!!

  2. Tim Powell says:

    Seena, coming from a world-class intelligence expert like yourself, this is high praise indeed!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Comments

  • Tim Powell on A brief pause: “Thanks, Les. My frequent conversations with you over the past year or two has helped my thinking a lot in…Jan 15, 13:07
  • Les on A brief pause: “Excellent advice thank you for your terrific reflection piece Tim!Jan 15, 09:40
  • Glenroy London on Knowledge Erosion: How to Avoid It: “Hi Tim I am knoco caribbean. About to join the global km family. Exploring km frameworks for design, development, implementation,…Jul 12, 08:52
  • Tim Powell on War of the Words: “Glad to oblige TJ — and thanks for your note — but I do encourage to try it for yourself…Jun 23, 08:10
  • T J Elliott on War of the Words: ““Chat credited me with founding and/or leading 20 different companies and writing 13 books. In fact, I founded one company…Jun 22, 22:42