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Mindset is more important than skillset for CI - Discuss

Over the past few years, I've had conversations with colleagues and clients about how to hire for CI positions. The longer I do this work, the more I seek out those who think a particular way rather than those that necessarily have specific CI experience or skills. Of course, having both is ideal, but I will take a creative, curious thinker who is always asking questions and thinking several steps ahead over someone who has mastered Five Forces, online searches, etc.

What's your opinion? If you agree, what implications does this have for the development of the discipline, and in particular, any certification program that SCIP or others produce? Can these skills be taught?

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Good point, I totally agree!

Having the skillset without the mindset won't ever lead to any interesting analyses. However, I think there might be a positive transfer between those, to some extent.

I have spent quite some time teaching courses in CI, and when it comes to scenario planning, in particular, it is not uncommon to actually see a change in mindset in some participants during a 2 or 3 day long course. When you see that happen, that is one of the greatest rewards in teaching, in my opinion. This effect might be smaller when it comes to other skills, such as Five forces and others, though.

All in all, this proves the old saying "hire for attitude, train for skill" true, does it not?

Best regards,
Henrik Sköld
I do agree too Bill.

I already told you that I love your statement "the best analysis I have seen was done without using any of the most commonly taught analysis techniques. In most cases, all you need is a whiteboard, a marker, and a few good brains". I think a good practioner is born and then trained. The best training in the world will not work without a good attitude.

It is necessary to go around with wide open eyes for a peripherical view, a really open mind to be ready to take any path or think in different scenarios, imagination to come up with alternatives when things are not easy to find out and, or course, the ability to structure all the available information, analyze it and present it in a nice, concise and clear way. Easy uh?

I found that my background in Art History has helped me in the attitude when facing an unknown or not clear situation. As Leonard Fuld said, CI is like looking at an impressionist picture: you need perspective, imagination, linking little pieces to make the puzzle and creativity to understand the full story and what it is behind the clear and apparently obvious facts.

Wise old saying Henrik. I think is totally right.

Best regards,

Eliana Benjumeda
Maybe in the end we all agree, but my opinion is and I tell this to my students that all the analysis you do has to pass the common sense/business acumen test. If the analysis does not have common sense or a logical reasoning behind. Then, you are applying the wrong model and are in trouble.

Among students there is the aura of authorship, I mean they think: If I apply Porter's model, I can´t be wrong and sometimes they are. Because they are using the wrong model for the situation they are facing. What I keep telling my students is that decision makers do not care about who invented the model, they care about if makes sense to them in the situation they are facing or not. If it does not, then they just do not care about the who invented the model. Indeed, we do not quote the author of the model when presenting an analysis to one of our customers, simply because they just do not care. We, however, do when teaching..

I do not think that common sense can be taught, something that I do not know if it can be taught is how to distinguish the important from the not important or even worse, from the not so important... I believe this really makes a difference, but there are lots of people who do not know the difference...

Finally, SCIP can test knowledge, I mean, we can test if a guy knows five forces or not.. If he has common sense or knows how to distinguish the important from the unimportant can be tested, but it requires a lot of time... I do not know how SCIP's certification will be done.. If done on a long term basis, then, common sense and the distinction can be tested by means of case resolution for example, but the class has to be small.. And honestly, this is something which is also useful for a management carreer and to the best of my knowledge, no business school tests its students on this two characteristics, which are, most probably, among the ones you have to master to succeed in business..

I hope my two cents added something to the discussion!

Best regards,

I totally agree with you Adrian.

Most of the times what really matters is applying common sense. But remember what we say in Spanish: "common sense is the less common of all senses"

I agree that most clients don't care about the author of the model as long as the analysis is well done and applied. But I have also found a few that, not knowing much about CI, if they do not see those famous names, they think that the resulting report is "poor". But this is another story.

Have a nice weekend!


We have a similar saying in English, "there is nothing common about common sense."


Ellen Naylor
The most important skill, whether innate or taught, is the ability to think in systems. That way you can interpret signals from one part of the world and see their implications in a variety of places. If you can make connections, all the intelligence in the world won't help you, or your company.

Can these skills be certified? I'm not sure.
Hi Bill:

This is a great question, or to be more accurate, set of questions. My opinion is that proficient (or likely to be proficient) CI practitioners should have both demonstrated (i.e., qualified) mindset and skillset, and that the absence of either one will lead to less effective outcomes. Skillset can be developed and taught, and improved through repeated application over changing contexts. Mindset can be identified and encouraged, but is likely less fungible than skillset in terms of being amenable to development or modification.

There are numerous implications this has for the development of the discipline. First, we need to identify those skillsets that every effective CI practitioner will need to demonstrate some minimum/basic level of proficiency toward. This is exactly what other professions have done, whether it is the legal profession that you are working in by establishing post-secondary study/program requirements, having would-be lawyers passing oral exams, having them article, ensuring they pass the "bar," etc., or in accounting (i.e., establishing acceptable post-secondary degree/study requirements, providing exams, ensuring students work for a designated period of time doing supervised accounting work, and ensuring they pass a certification - CA, CMA exam, etc.). Second, we need to identify both an instructional/teaching pedagogy and network of acceptable institutions to deliver the needed knowledge, and then also ensure it is available, updated, reinforced, and meets certain quality standards. Third, we need to establish a means by which this knowledge can be objectively examined. We also need to promulgate mechanisms like establishing monitoring/research or focus groups of CI clients/decision-makers, to capture changing knowledge bases in the field (like CIF's body of knowledge process -- this needs to be institutionalized and performed by SCIP/CIF on an ongoing basis to be effective) and to make sure it is integrated into existing education and certification programs as well as employed within the examination mechanisms. And there is even more -- but I don't want this to start resembling a mini-thesis.

I'll leave the implications discussion about mindset for those of you practitioners who need to try and hire your new/next colleagues. There is quite a bit of research that has been presented in both SCIP publications and at its conferences over the last couple of decades that speaks directly to this matter. This is available in SCIP headquarters in its paper and electronic archives as well as its library (I use that word loosely -- on the bookshelves and in the back rooms).

Keep this discussion going. It is an important one that I have long been pushing as an agenda item for the field and association.


I have used your quotation about 'a whiteboard, a marker, and a few good brains' ever since I came across it. I have taught CI to many hundreds of people over the past 19 years (mostly people who had no experience in the field) and have found that those best equipped for the task are those with the right attitude and a great deal of common sense. Other attributes are necessary, such as: insatiable curiosity, an open mind, and integrity. They also need to have a thorough knowledge of their business and the environment in which it operates; and they need first-class communications skills. Finally, I have also found that those who fight for access to decision makers are best equipped to make it work. Almost everything else can be acquired, given some basic training and experience.

Concerning access to decision makers, Sun Tzu says: Of all those in the army close to the commander none is more intimate than the secret agent; of all rewards none more liberal than those given to secret agents; of all those matters none is more confidential than those relating to secret operations. . . Secret agents receive their instructions inside the tent of the general and are intimate and close to him.

Kindest regards,

Vernon Prior
To add to your attitude discussion about those who fight for access to true...perseverence is an important trait, which is what it often takes to get to the executive suite for many CI managers, since our route is not smooth and is often indirect. Cheers, Ellen
I definitely agree with you, Bill.

"Thinking skills" should precede "application skills" although both are necessary and neither alone is sufficient for optimal CI performance.

That said, too often we rely on analytical frameworks to help guide our thinking, when true CI breakthroughs come from a new way to think about an old problem.

Jane Chin
Hi Jane: Thanks for participating in this discussion. Your first paragraph is a reasonable opinion that I also share.

Your second one, however, is likely incomplete -- it should have read " too often we rely on a very limited set of analytical frameworks..." Research done by myself and others through the years shows that most CI practitioners consistently (and not always optimally, I'll note) use only a very limited set of tools and techniques (i.e., 6-8 analytical techniques account for 90+% of the CI work done and are used regularly by experienced practitioners). It is no wonder we don't get more "true CI breakthroughs." We share the view that new ways, more ways, and more creative ways, may help guide thinking more effectively in the future.

Thanks for participating and keep these discussions going... Craig
I would agree that there are innate skills that outstanding CI people have in common...natural curiosity, pattern recognition, systems thinking, problem solving. One skill that is also critical to success is the ability to communicate. We have often talked about MBTI and that most analysts are INTJ, but I would put forth that in order for CI to be valued and used within a company, it must be communicated and there must be a significant amount of persistence in order for the work to be applied and the most successful applications I have seen of this are with those who are natually extroverted which is another mindset altogether.


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