Competitive Intelligence is a technical term - each and everyone of us has to explain regularly what it's NOT (like corporate espionage, using Google, or market research), and often we end up in explaining what it should or could be (if only the decision makers valued the methodology or the strategic impact of our work).
Let's take a look from the outside and find out what our real product is, what we deliver to the customer which differs from that of other information providers. Is it knowledge? No, too broad. Is it insight? Yeah, that's a bit better. Is it intelligence? Sure, that's what we all think it is. But still we have to explain what that means. And what it does not mean. So we still lack a term which is
a. self-explaining, which has
b. a positive connotation and which is
c. not yet adopted by other professions.
I still remember my very first SCIP conference back in Munich a couple of years ago, at the beginning of my CI career. I was nothing but an interested spectator, standing together with Bill Weber, Michael Belkine and a few others who were discussing why SCIP and CI still did not have the recognition and the public awareness they should have had. Coming from the PR industry, that was totally clear to me, and it is still valid now:
We are not able to deliver real-life success stories. Every time we have a huge success in favour of our clients or of our employers we are not allowed to use it due to non-disclosure agreements or due to the risk of losing the competitive advantage we just produced. You could say: who cares - if only the corporate client values the outcome, that's OK for me. The problem is that the real leverage for the public image and the reputation of a profession is not produced by personal successes, professional associations, or academic advancements - it is media coverage that drives recognition, respect, and demand.
The term intelligence has two sides since it describes a product and a process. Being not able to prove the validity of "intelligence" as a product moves us right into the trap that we have to concentrate on the process - which means first and above all defending CI as an ethical means which has, well, something to do with intelligence like in government intelligence, but not in all aspects, although analytical methods are mostly the same, and, by the way, primary intelligence is something other information providers are just not doing, bla bla bla. How exciting is that?
I call that an Empire State Building elevator pitch. You get into the cabin as a corporate spy, and after a long ride you leave it as a boy scout. I know how to make a fire, but I must not prove it.
So? Intelligence as a product is not an asset we are able to use in public. Intelligence as a process is techno-babble and confuses the image of our profession with government intelligence or even corporate espionage.
So what? Where is the term which is a. self-explaining, which has b. a positive connotation and which is c. not yet adopted by other professions?
Let's take a look back at economic theory. One of the theoretical conditions required for a free market to be efficient is what? Right: Transparency. Voilà.
Why don't we use that term in order to describe the product we deliver? "Transparency" means: chasing away the clouds, clearing the sight for better decisions. Transparency is not threatening, it is pure and simple. As Transparency Agents we do not accumulate data, but we strip off the unnecessary information so that decision makers can see the mechanics of markets and the next moves of our competitors.
Isn't that what we always wanted to be seen? Not as the guys who just collect information for everyone who orders it? Isn't that much more adapted to the abundance of information out there - "chipping away the stone that doesn't look like David"?
What do you think? Maybe I miss an important point or a certain connotation of the term "transparency". (I love the English language, but my mother tongue is German). Or someone used that approach in the past and failed completely.
I'd love to hear your comments on that.