Competitive Intelligence

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Are We In a Rut, Or Just Reluctant to Share?

Over the last several months, on separate work projects, I have been looking closely at Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, and BCG and how they structure their work and serve their clients. All of these are stellar organizations that succeeed by innovating, expanding the sophistication of their processes, and constantly keeping ahead of their clients (and competitors).

I was struck by the contrast with the CI discipline, where I fear that we are stuck in a rut. Go to any conference and you'll see presenters (myself included) dust off the decades-old intelligence cycle, Porter's Five Forces, etc. Is this the best that we can do? Where is the new thinking? Is anyone innovating out there? While I realize that good CI is a lot more than slick models and methodologies, these are indirect indicators of the level of thinking that goes on within a discipline.

In addition, most of these models are about how to "do" CI, and there seems to be little work done on how to elevate the discipline, build it into the DNA of an organization, or make it an integral part of a company's strategic thinking.

Of course, this type of work may indeed be going on, but practitioners are simply unwilling to share their secrets outside of their organizations. My guess, however, is that this represents only part of the issue, and that the problem runs deeper.

Any thoughts? Am I on-target here or off-base?

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If you want my views on the CI cycle, read the piece I did for the now-defunct JCIM. The short story -- the cycle does not represent what we do and is based on a bad, now discredited model.
I think you are on to something here, definitely. I've worked CI both client and agency side for years, and in the end we're still using the same methods on a tactical level, analyzing data the same way on an operational level, and framing our recommendations the same way on a strategic level. I've said before and truly believe that if we don't shape up as a discipline, Social Networking and Knowledge Management are going to eat our lunch as the both the utility and ubiquity of those functions continues to increase.

There are all sorts of new advances in neuroscience, psychology, network analysis and decision making we could be pulling in to our discipline. Moreover, CI practitioners are uniquely posed to take advantage of the de-centralization of the workplace/force and the movement towards virtual and ad hoc organizations because we get this stuff; CI is inherently about being ahead of the curve, IMHO.

I'm not sure, prima facia, that openness is the solution, but it can't hurt. I've been doing some work lately in the field of Qualitative Research, and I continue to be struck by the contrasts with that world and the CI world. Qual people share everything: methods, recommendations, contractors...even clients (they are also generally speaking a pretty fun bunch of people - and maybe we could learn something from that mind set as well.) Qual is nearly as esoteric and proprietary as CI and just as small a field, so the parallels are there.

In any case, with the economy in the shape it's in, a little "we must all hang together or we shall all hand separately" might help.
Thanks for the post, Bill. I have seen something similar.

When I was neck-deep in my MBA program I found myself several times excited by the opportunities to align CI with methods that are employed in strategic consulting, integrate CI with finance (read: not just apply public financial data to the CI process but also integrate CI methods into finance). There are also some exciting opportunities to cross the chasm between CI and market research. There are a number of models for quantitative analysis that would make the practice more robust than it is currently. Long story short we are either missing a lot of opportunities or not sharing some of the more innovative things we are doing as a community.

I have observed that in many companies and communities of practice CI is not a stand-alone function but something that is incorporated into some of these other activities. We may not see some of these innovative applications discussed in the CI community because these people do not consider themselves "CI" professionals even if some portion of what they do is similar to what we do.

KM makes a great point about network analysis. There is a lot of opportunity there to innovate how we do some of our traditional analysis (scenario development comes immediately to mind) and conduct new kinds of analysis.

Some time ago I wrote an e-mail about possible modifications to spruce up the traditional SWOT and make it more relevant (will post if I can find it).

John is right that the intelligence cycle is largely outdated. Everything I do is significantly more iterative and either wholly persistent or one-off.

One of the reasons we incorporated the "CI Entrepreneurship" track for SCIP09 was to try to encourage vendors and practitioners working on these new things to share what they are doing with the community. Success will obviously depend in part on whether or not there is a real willingness to share.
This is culled together from an e-mail conversation I had earlier this year and gets around some of the things that Bill is hinting at in his initial post. I think Bill is looking to see how the CI practice could be taken to an even more advanced level than what I am talking about here:

At my universities, I was introduced to various case studies and
learned some of these prominent management frameworks and models:

7-S Strategy Framework
Balanced Scorecard
BCG Matrix
Profit Pool Analysis & Value Chain Analysis
SWOT Analysis
Product Life Cycle
Core Competencies
Sustainable Competitive Advantage
Strategic Business Units
Business Drivers
Porter Five Forces
Organization & System Design
Pareto 80/20
Product/Market Grid
Marketing Mix 4p's

I'm familiar or have used most of the frameworks on your list. I've
never seen Profit Pool, though Value Chain Analysis is something I've
used. Another good framework to add to your list is the STEEP (Social
Technical Economic Environmental Political) framework for
environmental (read: business environment) analysis. The British call
it PESTLE because they change around a few letters and differentiate
between Legal and Political elements (not entirely a bad idea). These
are very useful tools that provide some additional insight beyond
Porter's Five Forces.

The two frameworks most accessible to the widest community of users
are SWOT and Five Forces. I have to admit that there was a time when
I was very sloppy with my own SWOT analysis, and it's important to
recognize that Opportunities and Threats are macro-economic and
business environment trends external to the organization itself, such
that companies that share industries, geographic markets, horizontal
markets and vertical markets would have identical (or very, very near
identical) opportunities and threats. Many executives do tend to
respond favorably to SWOT's that include some element of "what can we
do to build on our strengths, close the gaps on our weaknesses,
exploit our opportunities and mitigate our threats" in a SWOT
analysis. I've been thinking more and more about the notion of a
priority, which is something the basic SWOT does not do convey well.
Not all Strengths and Opportunities are equal, and likewise Weaknesses
and Threats. A deeper analysis will relate the elements of SWOT to
the financial and strategic impact of each component.

Yet another framework to consider is Stakeholder Analysis. This looks
at the managers, employees, shareholders, customers and communities
that are impacted by organizational actions. You evaluate their
interests, opinions and actions to determine the various pressures
drive decision-making. Most every decision in business involves some
trade-off among these stakeholder communities, and each group's
self-interest balances out the self-interest of others.
This post is a wonderful example of why CI might be in a rut. If you are in CI, or any form of business management role for that matter, and are only just getting excited about these tools then where have you been for the past 30 years? If you weren't taught about prioritised SWOTs on your MBA then I despair. Things are worse than I thought. I think we all know what a stakeholder analysis does too. Some advice. When you talk to an artist, it would be wise not to tell them how you think they should hold the brush, especially when you have only just found out yourself that it is that funny little bristley end that you put the paint on.
Let me put the original e-mails from which I had pulled the content Sheila has chosen to criticize into context. This material came as the result of an exchange with someone new to CI. Let that context serve as a reminder that there are people in this community with wide variances in their levels of expertise, and we should all be so lucky to look at CI with fresh eyes.

As somebody who is here to learn from others in this forum and share what I know with the community, I found Sheila's post to be genuinely insulting. It was insulting both to me personally and the community. I felt that I needed to say something both to defend myself and prevent destructive norms from establishing themselves in this community. I would hate to think that others in the community with ideas they want to contribute might be cowed by a cynical and vocal minority.

Mature professionals can disagree with one another and still be respectful and make a positive contribution to the community. If our practice is in a rut we're not going to dig our way out of it by pulling one another down.
Sheila and August - I consider you both friends of mine personally and I admire you both a LOT professionally and, as de facto moderator of this forum, I would like to post publicly that we really must keep our exchanges on a professional level and consider one another with the highest mutual respect.

I don't know that any apologies are in order (Sheila) but were I August, I believe one might be accepted as, in re-reading his original post and your frankly rather vitriolic reply, the hyperbole is a bit extreme and could potentially be perceived as "personal" in its critique. I'll let you both do what you like from there...

In terms of rules of engagement in this forum, I have been quite intentionally laissez faire in any enforcement of decorum and polity for everyone and I don't intend to change that. We're all adults here, despite our varying levels of experience, and I would hope we can all live by the Golden Rule, if you please.

Let's all have consideration for one another's enthusiasm for this field - that is the purpose of this exchange - to help CI maintain and grow its relevance among the world at large.

To paraphrase Franklin, we must all hang together or we shall surely hang separately.

Thank you both and my eternal best regards,

- Arik
Arik and August. If my comments have offended - I apologise. I misunderstood August's post to be his views and not those of somebody who was clearly, less experienced, quite possibly just out of B-School.

However, I still maintain that the paucity of technical skills among some of our colleagues, whatever their level of expertise, sometimes leaves much to be desired. Indeed my own research in Europe has proved it to be the case. Talking to colleagues across the pond, I understand it is not a great deal better there. As one who has been doing this stuff for over 25 years and now teaches competitive analysis and CI to post graduates and executives, I truly am doing my level best to get them to “up their game”. All of my students, aged between 24 and 54, go out of my University at least knowing that nearly 50 different tools exist, they know what they are for, what the strengths and limitations are, they know the unit of analysis and they know what they tell them. They also know when they can combine different tools to create unique output. When I ask some of my corporate customers what analysis tools they use, if I get anything more than SWOT, 5 forces, PEST and BCG I am thrilled, because it rarely happens. When it does, I am usually offered a specific framework that is "the norm" in their industry.

I am sorry if I get exasperated over this but the trouble is, I don't see this situation changing when the volume driven business schools on both our continents continue to deliver the same old stuff over and over again. It is as if the world stopped with Michael Porter in 1980. That is probably why I feel that CI may be, (not is), in a rut but we have the power to climb out of that if we just took the trouble to read research, learn new things and grow. Airline pilots, doctors, lawyers and engineers are what might be regarded as "true" professionals. Not only do they have to have a specialist qualification to get a position in the first place, which frequently takes several years of written and practical study, but they understand and accept that they will be continually tested during their career, right up until retirement. They will have to prove that they have done sufficient time in a flight simulator, that they have learned, and can carry out, the latest medical procedures, that they understand the latest case law, that they can adapt and integrate new building materials and regulations into their designs. So, to wrap up, in exactly the same way as I have no desire to be in an airplane with an unqualified pilot, or trust my health or court case to an uneducated doctor or lawyer, or live in a house built by cowboy builders I really don’t want to see CI being spoiled by a lack of education.

In my industrial experience as a practitioner working on M&A and Business Development for a blue chip firm, I can confirm that done right, CI is extraordinarily powerful. I would like that situation to continue.

Your comments support the necessity of sharing, IMO. Several have stated that they would not share what they do with clients - and that's proper as it probably is proprietary.

What stuns me is that my CI consulting colleagues rarely share the specific type of work they do. At the last several annual conferences, when I have tried to engage others who have CI consulting firms, to learn what they are doing, they respond with THE most basic or coded or camouflaged statement. I believe there is far less overlap in what we do than what is believed - and we could learn from and even contract with each other.

But the bigger issue is that without sharing, we're each inventing the wheel over and over again, rather than developing more creative and sophisticated approaches. Our clients would benefit from this and would talk about the value of CI.

This is a major reason why our profession is not growing. We do not build on our skills as quickly as we would if we shared our thinking, approach, types of projects, etc.. Since we don't share, others outside the CI community, who might buy our services or incorporate a CI department within their companies, hear little about CI. We're almost invisible because we make ourselves invisible.

This attempt at protection has worked very well. Twenty plus years after SCIP was founded, most businesspeople have never heard of CI. So, since SCIP isn't addressing this, it's up to us.

I'd love to hear your suggestions for what we can do?
Hello Seena: You and I share these views and like you, I have also had the experiences you described. Although most people would not realize I have a skeptical side, let me suggest that the problem in some cases goes far deeper than our unwillingness to share. The camouflage runs rampant in our community, as does the invisibility cloaking.

These are not new phenomenon in CI; indeed, my view is that they were there at the time SCIP began over two decades ago, and they are still there today. Maybe they've morphed a bit, emboldened through our ability to shield ourselves in sophisticated ways (e.g., using technology), but we still engage in far too much covering up of what we do and why we do it and do not provide enough transparency, even amongst friends, including among them our CI colleagues, fellow association members, networks. Even related groups, like SLA, AIIP, knowledge management professionals, applied strategy groups, market/marketing research organizations, and the better known management consultancies and their umbrellas, who could offer CI practitioners value-adding complementarity, have generally viewed SCIP and its practitioners as wanting to be left alone and to their own matters. I won't even start with our unimpressive approaches to executives in our leading business schools or in industry -- it is rare for top executives (i.e., amongst our most important customers/clients) to be in our midst at SCIP or related CI meetings, and rarer still to have CI courses as part of the required MBA curriculum in our top graduate schools.

As I had alluded in an earlier message in this forum, when my grad students researched CI consultancy web-sites and compared them to (well known) consultancy websites, they were amazed at how much the well-known consultancies shared about what they did, how they defined their value proposition in ways that spoke of specifics, that they used language everyone could understand, how they generally shared details about their client engagements (up to a point), that they were unafraid to publicize their intellectual leadership, that their associates/partners were out in public speaking, writing, interviewing with reporters, etc. Now compare that to the "typical" CI consultancy, however and with whomever you choose to define that term.

Sustained market leaders - to the extent we have those in this day and age - that they can even share (publicly -- us CI folks can easily piece these together because we know where to look for the clues and understand what they mean) the so-called holy grail, their strategic plans, with their competitors. They can do that because they are so good and so confident that they can stay ahead of their competitors, through deft organization, through creative and innovative leadership (thought, product, process, or whatever), because they "set the rules of the game" and keep everybody months and years behind them, because they hire tested talent, and develop the promising ones, among other things. We have a few of those in the CI community, and you would be one of the individuals who would best recognize and be characterized in this way, but there are not nearly enough like you.

Making things worse, I have seen many people and consultancies come and go during my two decades plus interacting in this community. I am sure you can think of a few of these entities as well. Many individuals or consultancies hung a CI shingle for a time, sold the proverbial snake oil, rocket science, magic pills and/or the promises that they could not keep. The clients and customers (decisions makers and their organizations) bought some of these items, and the infatuation with CI ended prematurely in those cases. There would be no return clients or customers, and the integrity of our field was harmed immensely. I'll continue this in a separate message since my space was constrained here...
I won’t finish this until I have added the constructive part. If I cannot help offer a solution, than I am actually a bigger part of the problem.
There can be no professionalization of a field where there are no agreed-upon standards of practice, where we struggle to even define what “competitive intelligence” is or should be, where ethical boundaries remain fuzzy for a sizable percentage of its practitioners, where we cannot articulate what public benefit is generated by our work, where we have little to no research pushing and testing the boundaries of our knowledge, where we do not assess or examine the qualifications of our practitioners, and/or where our leaders do not step forward to be counted, to be heard, and to make a difference. If we have actually seen the enemy that keeps us from becoming what many of us have always thought we could be, then it must surely be us.
I know I have tried to provide leadership through a variety of efforts, ranging from serving as SCIP President, to starting the CI Foundation, to developing MBA programs concentrating in CI, among other things. Likewise, and even more impressively IMHO, leading consulting lights like Seena Sharp, Arik Johnson, Babette Bensoussan, Rainer Michaeli, Michael Sandman, Ben Gilad, and many other practice and thought leaders (we know who you are) have stepped forward powerfully and frequently at various points through the years to take hold of the mantle of leadership. All of us have hoped that our efforts would endure, and maybe they will. Only the passage of time will provide that answer. Until then, we must keep providing the leadership, encouraging others to step up and take the mantle, to share ideas, to be unafraid to work together in helping us all achieve our shared interests.

I’ll leave this discussion with the same thing that lead me to it in the first pace, with a question: Wouldn’t it be good for all of us, if some of us unselfishly step forward to help CI become the profession we all claim it should be?
Hi Craig, and CI colleagues, my name is Pieter Smith, I am an in-house intelligence consultant, coordinator and practicioner in South Africa, and fully support your (and others') calls for sharing. I will surely do my bit, and believe that we need both deep and wide research and input, including from related fields like risk perception, decision making, and visualisation, and e.g. government intelligence. While all the learning sharing and contribution will probably only add true "mainstream" value once they feature prominently or as standard in well-read/attended and implemented books, journals, educational courses, conferences, etc., this community platform is already a great start for sharing, implementing, feedback and improvement of those things we could and should be sharing and have as a basis for our profession. John Prescott's Body of Knowledge project is also in my opinion an example of the way in which this can be done. Craig, I want to mentiond especially the inclusion of the section on Analysis Pitfalls, as well as the Analysis of Competing Hypothesis method in your recent book. To me these are examples of how some new, "non-standard" CI aspects have been introduced from another domain/application area that I think will add immense value to the professionalism of the field and actual intelligence outcomes. We need more of these from everyone, including from e.g. fields I have already mentioned. Getting a wide view is actually easy, or a deep one. Getting it from there, and from everyone's heads into something that is not only useful but necessary for the community to embrace, is the challenging part!


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