Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries

Lately, I've been doing a lot of thinking as well as presenting to a variety of community, interest and professional groups about workforce and career development issues. The research I'm doing in this sphere is both interesting and potentially important, not the least of which because we are in a recessionary context, but also because the workplace of future decades (2010+) is likely to have different characteristics than the ones I became so familiar with over the last 20-30 years. Think about it for a second: the workers already are and will continue to be different as the next (Net) Gen'ers move through in several waves, structures are already different (bye bye silos and tall organizational charts), work processes are evolving (thanks mainly to ICT), and everything has a new and exciting (for some, at least) global character.

One of the questions that sits in the back of my mind is whether CI, strategy consultancy, and business planning will change much. I published papers at the start of the 90s and new millennium that argued big changes to business were afoot. Some of these proved to be at least partly correct, while others I and most other prognosticators just flat out missed in fully envisioning their development. I'm never real surprised about economic downturns, increasing competition, evolutionary or even revolutionary changes in technology, sociopolitical unrest, demographic change, etc... these are all relatively easy to factor into our analyses and thinking.

Folks in CI have long been advocates for considering different scenarios in their insight development processes. We are more likely than most people in our organizations to consider change, dynamism, ambiguity, uncertainty and risk of various sorts. Yet, I look at how the field has shifted in response to challenges and opportunities over the last couple of decades and am unconvinced that CI has come anywhere close to delivering on the promise that many of us have pinned to it in the past. It makes me wonder if the promise of easily-recognized "positive difference making" for our organizations we hoped for was unrealistic in the first place, or if the performance by those of us in the field just never matched the potential? I suspect the best answer to this question has elements of both.

Do we still have promise of professionalizing CI? If so, has it changed from the promise we observed twenty years ago? Will CI careers be desirable ones to practitioners (or students) in the future?Can this field and its practitioners someday in the future be viewed as essential to their employing organizations as the financial experts, accountants, operations specialists, and marketers are today? If it is possible, what do we need to be doing in the present to raise this possibility?

I'm still working on developing alternatives, ideas, and constructive actions. I know a lot of very bright and industrious people are doing likewise. The 600+ (and rising) global members of this Ning community just may be the catalyst in making it happen. I hope some of us succeed in this task.

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Comment by Arik Johnson on March 11, 2009 at 6:36am
Very well said, my friend.

I also think CI is at a crossroads - not unlike other managerial disciplines, insofar as CI is one - that will need redefinition of the value of the practice in the decade ahead. Only together can we take the right path forward... relying on leadership from gurus and pundits has always been less reliable than novices joining together and finding the emergent properties of the days ahead.

That future lies in the redefinition of value CI has to offer the enterprises who sponsor it - but not as we have in the past.

The past generation of CI fell back on definitions of value based on understanding and anticipating the operating environment through the lens of competitors. While this was not wrong, it was incomplete, as that perspective largely ignored the demand curve competitors are all competing to attract as market share. This is understandable as market demand dynamics were always considered the realm of market research - wrongly, by the way - and since MR owned that territory, corporate political struggles made overlap between CI and MR impossible when MR grew relatively more powerful, usually by an order of magnitude or two. This competition led to the flight of CI from the market in the face of MR's competition. CI became too insular and focused on competitor issues when competitors themselves became illusive in charting a course for the future of a firm.

I think we're at the point when CI will either die or we will all come together to redefine it. I look forward to working with you Craig and the other stunningly bright minds aggregated here to figure this out. What is our shared vision of CI, circa 2020? Do we have one? If not, shame on us and let's resolve to tackle this issue together.

- Arik

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