Whatever your ambitions or the state of your intelligence organization, let me suggest one critical resolution to help you succeed in the coming year. Keep WINNING front and center of all you do.
Too much of the advice we receive in the intelligence game tells us to focus our work farther out into the future: To look at the 5 year, 10 year or even longer time horizons. I strongly suggest you put this advice aside.
If you work in the private sector, you need to understand these long term looks, while often revealing and certainly interesting, are an indulgent luxury. It is wonderful when an executive team or board of directors invites or encourages these exercises. But make no mistake, an intelligence organization cannot succeed by making them a steady diet.
History is littered with the carcasses of great enterprises that established enormous and profitable franchises, then started to believe in their own invincibility, and lost sight of the basic blocking and tackling that delivered the revenue.
Many, if not all, of these firms invested time and talent in future-oriented or future-themed activities. But sadly, these activities often distracted management from the “hear and now” problems facing the company, or became desperate searches for ways to leap-frog the growing rot in existing revenue streams. Either way, these “future” focused activities rarely deliver salvation.
As intelligence professionals we should always focus first and foremost on today’s business … the existing products, services and revenue streams. The money behind our paycheck (and that of all our colleagues) comes from the company’s success in the current market battle, not from some scenario-planned, game-theoried future state.
This means the majority (not all) of your work needs to concentrate on helping your company WIN! Revenues and profits! Making the numbers! Winning the deals! Banging out some more market share!
Intelligence must serve these goals first.
Once you accept and commit to this, several important benefits accrue. First, you are putting yourself in a stronger career position because you’re making yourself more accountable for delivering tangible results: “Hey the intel folks really helped us win that contract.”
Second, your engagement in the operating activities of the company – how you make, market and sell products and services – will help you better understand rivals at the behavioral level. This will enhance your ability to predict future moves and reactions, which can only make you more effective at the first point.
Finally, deeper understanding and engagement in today’s game, will increase your ability to discern developing threats and distinguish true game changers. This is a much better source for intelligence topics than asking a CEO what keeps him or her up at night.
Taken together, putting winning first is a more certain path to credibility and impact. It also earns you a legitimate right in talk to leadership about the future.
THIS POST FIRST APPEARED JANUARY 7, 2014