Competitive Intelligence

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Happy New Year!  Welcome to 2017 and the repost of our annual Intelligence New Year’s Resolutions.

The last couple of years I’ve posted the same 4 critical resolutions for your competitive intelligence or “market reconnaissance” capabilities. These original resolutions are summarized below and remain as relevant now as when originally published.

In 2016 I added to the original 4: Don’t Wait to be Blessed!

Don’t Wait to be Blessed came from a discussion with my friend Becky Okamoto about the challenges of organization change. She pointed out the common laziness and lack of personal leadership that are rife in organizations screaming for help, whether with personnel development or growing capability.

Borrowing her phrase, I still see too many nascent (and established) intelligence groups waiting for some voice from on high to “bless the mission” and somehow sweep away obstacles to organizational uptake for intelligence.

Don’t wait!

The blessing and the sweep aren’t coming … or at least not in a form satisfactory enough to ensure success.

First off, many of your bosses and clients won’t understand what you are trying to do until you’ve done it. Second, chances are you won’t get it right the first time or two.

Intelligence is a fluid, trial and error enterprise. Focusing on “paint-by-numbers” action planning and organizational chartering is mostly a waste of time.  And waiting for a clear mandate from above is a sure license to fail.

Instead, go do it! Go make results and then build from your success. You can put wrapping on the intelligence gift after it’s opened … no one will remember that you acted before you got permission.


The original Strategy Shapers’ Intelligence New Year’s Resolutions…

Put Winning First … Our raison d’etre is (or needs to be) to help our firms succeed in the market. Too often we get wrapped around the wheel of process and forget this simple mission. In 2017, let’s put winning front and center. Read more….

Take Responsibility with Passion … Too many intelligence professionals adopt a dispassionate, stand-offish … dare I say, “clinical” … attitude to their work. They want to leave the hard work of “owning” decisions to others, to their bosses. If we want to make a deep and lasting impact on our firms … if we want a healthy profession … we need to stop this and join the team. Read more….

Take it to the Street … If we can’t translate intelligence insights into BOTH tactical and strategic actions that are practical and tuned to current market realities, whatever brilliance contained in our analysis will be lost. If we act like theorists and not like operations, marketing or sales lieutenants, then our impact on business results will be forever limited. Read more….

Think Financially … Good, bad or ugly, the world marks organizational success and failure in financial terms. All the best primary source evidence, analytical sophistication and analyst passion can’t overcome financial market opinion. So let’s not dismiss the Wall Street or Fleet Street point-of-view. Let’s understand it and make it part of our intelligence toolkit. Read more….

What resolutions and goals do you have for your intelligence team? Let’s talk about them. Add your comments or send me a note. Happy New Year!

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ONE:  How will Artificial Intelligence Impact the Future of CI

This was a great point, counter-point discussion between Ed Alison and Terry Thiele. Full coverage here.

Ed made the great point that we need the machine to grind thru (and think thru) the giant pile of data that we confront today and that will only grow more massive as we go forward. Ed wants us to enlist the tools of the digital age to tame the digital age. If we don’t, we’re toast.

Terry countered that this massive deluge actually requires more and better human minds to see thru and make sense of it. Terry bases this view on what he sees as the real impact of the digital age: The democratization of innovation and creativity. (My words.)

Of course, the debate’s conclusion was these points are likely more complementary than conflicting. We probably have to use more tools to grind the data. But we also need to recognize that most of the data is no more than effluent. Insightful, creative minds will be all the more critical to discerning threats, opportunities and to seeing the way forward.

Bottom line: This talk is why Reconverge is the best competitive intelligence forum in industry today!

TWO: Intelligence Impact over the Life of Products and Services

Jason Voiovich kicked off the Conference portion with a great talk about risk and insight as they relate to product lifecycle management. Excellent framework for thinking of how Intelligence needs to position itself and insert itself in the organization. Read here.

THREE: Intelligence for the Future … A C-Executive’s View

The “sleeper talk” from the conference was, in my view, Mike Suchsland’s. I say sleeper because it was not the best organized or most charismatic talk, but Mike’s perspective and insights are among the most important for intelligence practitioners.

Mike laid out the incredible challenge in front of intelligence leaders: reconciling management of the present state (organization, results, stakeholders) with reconnoitering the future … or in Mike’s term, inventing the future.

Mike shared great stories from his various C-officer stints and the challenges of matching strategic choices to business reality, organization character to company position and mission, and recruiting the right kind of people versus the just the kind of people you like.

In my view, any intelligence analyst or leader worth his or her salt needs to examine these questions very carefully BEFORE they commit one minute to their first intelligence project. (This, by the way, proved itself in the great Intelligence Shark Tank session at the end of the conference!)

FOUR: Financial Early Warning Indicators

Ryan Macumber from Best Buy talked about how careful financial analysis is crucial to the intelligence mission.

I couldn’t agree more. Understanding financial performance and capability is simply fundamental … and you don’t need to be a finance MBA to do it.

What you need to do is understand the critical performance metrics relevant to your industry. Then you need to understand how your company and key rivals deliver those metrics … the cash generation process. And then you need to understand how it is changing or how operational factors and industry trends will change it.

Bottom line, if you don’t understand how the math works, it’s hard to be effective with generating impactful intelligence insights.

FIVE: Little Problems in Big China

Tom Tao from James Madison University gave a great talk on where China is headed and also how to gather intelligence in China.

After listening to Tom’s insights, to say that China has big problems might be the understatement of the decade.

He gave us a lot information and data that all point to what we might call a “national restructuring”.  Bottom line, the assumptions on which China has built its economy over the last decade have simply evaporated. They built an infrastructure around an assumed competitive advantage -low cost basic industry- that others are now challenging (e.g., SE Asia, India, etc.) and that required a demand curve that is bent in the wrong direction.

Digging out and becoming a more entrepreneurial, open, high tech based economy is a daunting challenge. Tom thinks there’s no doubt the country has the ability to do it. But it will be a very rocky road.

Again, read about all the talks here: g2.reconverge.net/blog

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Reconverge is underway in beautiful Madison, Wisconsin. Intelligence and Strategy friends can follow the live blogging HERE. A lot of good stuff going on and very talented people. Check in often!

My Top 5 from Reconverge…

 

Andy Grove RIP!

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There have been numerous appraisals in the last week about the life of Andy Grove, founder and former CEO of Intel. The Wall Street Journal’s piece by Michael Malone is particularly good:  The Lion of Silicon Valley.

Grove truly was a colossus in the tech community and an amazing business leader.

Grove’s famous dictum (and title of his autobiography) -“Only the Paranoid Survive”- has always felt like a lodestar of sorts for those of us in the strategy and competitive analysis game. If only we could get our leaders to look over their shoulder and expect rivals to come after them.

Sadly the construction is freighted with tones of fear and isolation … and certainly Grove meant some of this. But I think his example and that of Intel is actually more liberating. If business leaders -really all leaders- could be more systematically open to the possibilities of disruption and change, engaged intellectually in how things can (and probably will) go awry, then they can more effectively be the agents of change.

It takes guts. In practice, Grove courageously changed the path Intel was headed down more than a few times. He attacked change, wallowed in it, tried to look inside it; and once he figured out where to go, it was full speed ahead.

Operate like Andy Grove and it is unlikely you’ll get beaten!

 

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Anybody remember this old placard from journalist Stephen Brill? A better piece of strategic advice would be hard to find.

Day 3 SCIP ATLANTA

Final Takes

SCIP 2015 is in the books. Atlanta and the Marriot Marquis was a great venue. As always it was great see old CI buddies, renew acquaintances, and make new friends. A lot of talented interesting and fun colleagues in this space!

The high points from Atlanta … some good key notes and panels. I especially liked the interview with Clay Mowry, President of Arianspace. Great perspective from a senior executive who lives and dies by intelligence insights … Just goes to show that even rocket scientists need intelligence!

The Great Debate session was indeed great … see below.

The Learning Labs and Marketplace-of-Ideas sessions were excellent additions to the typical mini-seminars that crowd the SCIP agenda. Too often in the past, mini-seminars were mostly thinly veiled vendor or author pitches. Not so with the Learning Labs and Marketplace-of-Ideas. Lots of aha’s going on in these sessions, lots of energy.

Overall, not as much negative vibe on vendors this year. And speaking of vendors, there were some interesting new technology providers that I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of.

Of course, John Thomson on his guitar, the band, and the Rock-n-Roll Dance Party were a blast.

And the low-lights:  Lower attendance and too high a vendor to practitioner ratio. Would have liked to hear from our board and missed the “state-of-SCIP” facts and figures. While Nan Bulger did a nice PR speech at the open, there is still a restlessness and worry among the membership that we are shrinking and not really leading professional growth and expansion. Some good sizzle but it is not at all clear where the bacon is.

The GREAT Debate!

Alysse Nockels emceed the best discussion / debate of the conference. Using a recent academic study as priming, the question is before the house: Has the association with “spying” and “dirty pool” forever tainted and stigmatized the profession? And therefore is doing intelligence in the business environment a bad idea professionally?

Craig Fleisher (SCIP Fellow, Aurora WDC Chief Learning Officer) argued for the affirmative case. Bad practices and high profile mistakes and failures have put CI behind the Eight Ball. Reputational risk, PR fear and a bad taste in mouths of senior managers continue to drag us down … and maybe we can’t break out? (Could say a lot in favor having survived the famous P&G vs. Unilever incident.) That’s the nut of the affirmative case.

Kevin Mann (IBM) took the negative! The reality is that despite the “stigma” the numbers don’t lie. 172 thousand LinkedIn profiles list competitive intelligence skills and experience. And relative to things like Stock Broker or Senator or even Lawyer and Chief Financial Officer, Competitive Intelligence Professional score higher in trust and reputation in surveys (as it should be!)

Kevin makes the excellent point that doing CI actually makes business professionals stronger, better thinkers, and stronger in terms of understanding ethics and principles. Net CI work should and does increase reputation of practitioners … whether they keep on in CI or move to other disciplines.

Bottom line of Kevin’s argument, CI makes stronger professionals, makes great and real impact, and are true guardians of ethics and principles.

I think Kevin’s argument wins … in a landslide.

Day 2 SCIP ATLANTA … afternoon and evening

Lots of good content today.

Lunch was divided into industry tables and I joined the Consumer Goods round. Not a lot of staples guys, but several retail and personal electronics friends. Good discussion and some interesting insights.

For those with a bent toward staples the demographic problem of slower family formation and a relatively poorer millennial generation is only exacerbated for retailers and consumer electronics players. The number of toys people are buying is not growing. And sharing toys is now de rigeuer for younger generations. What this portents for stock price multiples based on 4 to 6% market growth or higher, anybody’s guess! (What cannot go on forever, won’t.)

Day 2 SCIP ATLANTA

Lots of good fellowship and discussion last night at dinner. Many interesting companies, unique challenges, and the wonderful passion of CI people who want to “figure it out and get it right”.

Not so great start today. This morning’s keynote Keith Pigues (North Carolina Central University and Keen Strategy) did a bit of a retread from 2013 on his Differential Value Proposition thesis and book. It’s a good message but it was almost word for word the same speech as 2 years ago. And his style is loud and preachy which I think rolled over the audience. Here’s his message in a nutshell … it’s not enough to talk about putting customers first, you have to discover and measure how you make customers more successful:

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Also, it would have been nice to have some remarks from the Board Chair Alysse Nockels to start off today.

DAY 1 ATLANTA

Greetings from Atlanta … things are just getting underway at SCIP 2015. Attendance a bit down but Marriott Marquis is a great venue. The hotel was the setting for some of the Hunger Games filming. Very modern and funky architecture and on a massive scale. Will post pictures later.

OPENING SESSION…

First up today, a great key note! Intel’s in-house futurist Brian David Johnson. Funny, glib and, for once, not full of trend blather or laser-light nonsense. Rather, as he called himself, a “practical futurist”. Meaning that his method is disciplined, evidence based and hypothetical. Best of all, he rejected, flat out, the dystopian imagery of machines and technology running a dehumanized world … the stock and trade of many so-called futurists. His big thought. Human beings make the future, not history with a capital H. We should be optimistic and understand that we are the agents of tomorrow … not creepy technologies or scary forces beyond reckoning. Amen to that!

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MARRIOTT MARQUIS…

As promised … very cool!

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Update on afternoon… Some very good sessions running most of the afternoon. I didn’t stay for the Frost & Sullivan future stuff which folks reported as being “pretty tired”. Which is too bad after the strong start by Brian David Johnson.

Trade show opened and was packed.  Indeed a lot of critique that of the approximate 500 attendees, nearly half seem to be vendors … or as we call them “solution providers”. Obviously, as a vendor, I have a conflict of interest. But the critique is fair.

I did attend a good learning lab event emceed by Craig Fleisher. Good, diverse group of mostly CI leaders, talking about solving the “one big thing” that is holding them back. Prioritization, focusing on breakthrough work, and establishing organization cred were some of the big issues. Below were solutions, captured from flip charts. I’ll blog on these ideas more at a later date, but the raw material is worth consideration…

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Here’s a little advertising for the upcoming Reconverge:G2 conference in Madison, Wisconsin, April 14-16. These are great events. You’ll meet talented and interesting folks. And you’re sure to learn a lot … practical things that you can put to work in your business the Monday morning you get home. Consider joining in the fun … I guarantee it will be worth it!

happy-hour  For those in the area, come enjoy a pint this Thursday at The Brazenhead Irish Pub, either in Mason, Ohio or Columbus, Ohio, from 5 to 7 pm. Shake off the snow, warm yourself by the fire, and enjoy good fellowship with your SCIP colleagues and other intelligence mavens.   Hope to see you there!

aeschylus  Yesterday I stumbled on this excellent article – Know Thy Enemy– in The American Interest, that links competitive knowledge and insight to strategy making.

The piece reaches back 2,500 years to buttress points I’m constantly making with clients: Your rivals are NOT you. They think differently, and operate with different goals and motivations. What you consider irrational on their part could be perfectly rational from their vantage point.

Until you accept this and take a shot at understanding opponent’s interests and motivations, any strategy you adopt is necessarily flawed.

As the article’s author points out, the ancient Greek city-states understood this. Today, in both the public policy and business space, we seem to want to avoid it.

Good strategy requires a sound understanding of one’s rivals. A rival in any walk of life is, in a sense, an interlocutor. To engage him effectively in debate one must understand his speech and reasoning patterns. Without that knowledge, conversation is at best pointless, at worst self-defeating. So it is in strategy. It is futile to engage in competition with a rival power without having at least an inkling about his thoughts, fears, and desires.

The modern Western penchant for trusting in the equal rationality of all suggests otherwise. According to this conceit, there is no reason to plumb the nature of an enemy’s thinking because it is no different in essence from one’s own. But this is wrong…

So often I see business strategists, market researchers and competitive analysts thoroughly focused on the data while they neglect the harder and more slippery work of analyzing and speculating about behavior.

The promise of “big data” is the latest trend here. Somehow more data and more robust analysis methods will yield greater certainty. They don’t.

Through a wonderful review of Aeschylus’s great tragedy, The Persians, the author notes that this preference for measuring things versus speculating on intent is age old.

… we often fall back on measuring the enemy’s armies, economies, and populations as indicators of what he may achieve. In such an assessment of material variables, the implicit logic is: If the enemy can, he will; and if he cannot, he won’t. In modern academic parlance, we use capabilities as proxies of intentions.

This is a weak foundation to rest upon nowadays, as it was 2,500 years ago. The Persians did exactly that with the Greeks, and they lost. As the messenger bringing the bad news of the defeat to the Persian court puts it, “so far as numbers are concerned, the fleet of the barbarians would have prevailed.”

Indeed, so far as numbers are concerned nearly every idea or strategy should succeed.  Yet it doesn’t.

How many great organizations have banked on scale and fallen to the assumption that rivals would do “what they are supposed to do” instead of what they actually did?

As both strategists and intelligence leaders, we would do well to remember our Aeschylus. And we should challenge ourselves and our organizations to do a better job of trying to understand rival intent!

Last January I posted some Intelligence New Year’s resolutions. Looking back, they are just as relevant as we start 2015 as they were last year. For both those practicing this fascinating profession and for those customers and managers of the intelligence project, here they are:

Put Winning First … Our raison d’etre is (or needs to be) to help our firms succeed in the market. Too often we get wrapped around the wheel of process and forget this simple mission. In 2015, let’s put winning front and center. Read more….

Take Responsibility with Passion … Too many intelligence professionals adopt a dispassionate, stand-offish … dare I say, “clinical” … attitude to their work. They want to leave the hard work of “owning” decisions to others, to their bosses. If we want to make a deep and lasting impact on our firms … if we want a healthy profession … we need to stop this and join the team. Read more….

Take it to the Street … If we can’t translate intelligence insights into BOTH tactical and strategic actions that are practical and tuned to current market realities, whatever brilliance contained in our analysis will be lost. If we act like theorists and not like operations, marketing or sales lieutenants, then our impact on business results will be forever limited. Read more….

Think Financially … Good, bad or ugly, the world marks organizational success and failure in financial terms. All the best primary source evidence, analytical sophistication and analyst passion can’t overcome financial market opinion. So let’s not dismiss the Wall Street or Fleet Street point-of-view. Let’s understand it and make it part of our intelligence toolkit. Read more….

What resolutions and goals do you have for your intelligence team? Let’s talk about them. Add your comments or send me a note. Happy New Year!

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