Competitiveness and Innovation


27 Apr 2009  

Ideas from the SCIP09 Conference in Chicago…

When I was in business school, my dean (William Donaldson—who earlier in his career had founded the brokerage firm Donaldson, Lufkin, and Jenrette) had several homespun sayings that would guide those of us who knew him.  One of these was “You have two ears and one mouth—you can’t use them both at the same time, and you’d be wise to use them in that proportion.”

Listen more, talk less—what a concept!  When you get to be an “expert” in something, it’s too easy to talk without listening, thereby limiting your flow of new information to your own direct experiences.

Last week I attended the annual conference of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals in Chicago.  I had given lectures and workshops for many of their recent conferences, but this time my role was different.  This time, instead of being the “expert”, my job was to moderate and guide a discussion (“Active Dialog”) of the intelligence practitioners in the room.

Our topic was the ROI (return on investment) of intelligence, and how to increase it.  We sat in a circle facing each other, with no conference table in between.  I decided to forgo my usual flip chart for taking notes, as it seemed to interrupt the flow of conversation (you have to turn your back, and you can’t talk and write at the same time, or even listen).  I even decided to sit with everyone else, instead of standing in from of them, to symbolize and reinforce that my role was to moderate, not to pontificate or intimidate.  It was risky, as I was relinquishing my cherished pedestal as the “expert.”

Something wonderful happened.  It really worked, almost everybody talked, there was a very free flow of conversation in the session, and we talked frankly about some sensitive topics.  The session wasn’t billed as “group therapy”, but it had a similar effect.  Several people spontaneously remarked to me how much they enjoyed and benefited from it.

I enjoyed the hour too, since I always benefit from hearing about current practices and how they are changing.  Just as Dean Donaldson had said, it’s amazing what you can learn by listening instead of talking!

This was a conference on “competitive intelligence”, and everyone was drawn there because at least some aspect of their work is in that area.  About forty minutes into the hour, though, I had the sense that maybe we were not all talking about the same thing.  Maybe the words “competitive intelligence” have different meanings for different people.  And that while we assume we’re all using the same definitions, maybe we’re not.

At heart I’m a research guy, and I like to think that I’m “fact-based” and empirical—preferring to test assumptions, rather than just accept them at face value.  So I decided to ask for a show of hands regarding the basic definition of “competitive intelligence”.  How many people see it primarily as the study of direct competitors or rivals—I’ll call this competiTOR intelligence, or TOR for short?  On the other hand, how many see it as the study of a wide range of factors—including, but not limited to, rivals—that can impact the value of their organization?  I’ll call this “competiTIVE intelligence”, or TIVE for short.

To my surprise, the votes for TOR and TIVE were about equally split.  So my hunch that “competitive intelligence” does not mean, in practice, the same thing to all of us was validated, at least among this group.

This was a group of twenty-five, so these findings should be viewed as indicative only, not definitive.  The group appeared to be pretty randomized by industry, though most organizations were relatively large.

The hour ran out before I had time to go the next step with this.  But here’s my next hunch.  I’ll make a hypothesis here that value of intelligence to the organization is created is directly proportional to the extent that the TIVE model—a focus on a broad range of organizational opportunities and threats—prevails over the TOR model—a focus mainly on direct rivals.  In other words, I’m betting that addressing a range of threats (and opportunities) can add greater value than focusing just on direct rivals.

What’s YOUR definition, and what’s your opinion about the value proposition hypothesis above?

2 Responses

  1. Mislav Jurisic says:

    Unfortunately, couldn’t make it to Active Dialogue that you lead on this topic.
    I would say you would get even more different answers if you allowed for them. At least if you asked an audience that is not only CI producers (but users as well).
    By offering only two items you limited their voting options.
    I would vote for second option, but I think that it depends a lot on questions we get from customers as well as the industry itself. If you are in industry with one equal competitor or close to you you would want to take a good look at it and probably your internal clients as well. I agree that you could argue that you might bring more value and even find some important insights by looking at other factors where by acting on them you would distinguish yourself from that competitor.
    Please disregard if there is no additional value in the comments

  2. Max Nelson says:

    Didn’t think it was an either/or…

    Ideally, aren’t we really providing knowledge regarding the strategic environment to decision-makers to inform and improve their decision-making and action-taking? As such, aren’t we responsible for providing knowledge regarding both the competitors themselves as well as the competitive context in which they are acting? For if we don’t, aren’t we forcing the decision-makers themselves to examine the competitors in this broader context?

    If not us, then whom? And if others are doing the work of providing the decision-makers with deeper insights into the competitive environment and the overall strategic environment so that we are simply gathering data into competitor profiles… how much value-added are we truly providing in today’s data and information-rich world?

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