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:


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…


A good piece on the perils of “organic” and “non-GMO” food religion. Sad too when someone ends up confronting the truth by endangering their own children! Read on…

My Kids Don’t Eat Organic [anymore]. Here’s Why.



Apr 4

Reds are underway with the Phillies. Welcome home the boys of summer!

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What do you have when two tenths of the country’s population are able to dictate hundreds of millions of dollars of regulatory compliance cost on that country’s food industry?

Poor strategic leadership.

Articles like this one and this one have been cropping up over the last few weeks as the nation’s consumer food companies face compliance with GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) labeling requirements going into effect in Vermont this summer.

If you’ve stopped by here before, you know what I think of the thoughtless and immoral anti-GMO racket.

But what strikes me as particularly appalling in this case is not the fact that GMO labeling is mindless. Rather it is the ease with which major American corporations are practically laying over and taking it.

Yes, the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association sued, lost, and may get relief on appeal on restraint of trade grounds. And yes, the GMA got behind GOP senators who tried to pass some kind of bill to override Vermont. But that, predictably, failed. Now all the industry spokesperson “talking points” sound like “OK, we’ll do it.”

Who is advising senior managers in these organizations to go-along to get-along? How can they lay down after just one law suit?

The wiser strategy would have been (and still is) to force Vermont to prove its case. It might have taken some pain and treasure. And it would have likely required numerous individual company lawsuits (which would be a lot stronger than an industry association demonstration effort, since the suits would represent the interests of truly damaged parties … shareholders!)

An all-out effort would have more likely produced an injunction on restraint of trade grounds. More importantly, it would have eventually resulted in a finding of fact in court demonstrating that Vermont’s basis for action was unfounded.

The key point stands out in the WSJ article:

Though Vermont’s a tiny market for global powerhouses like Mars, it is having an outsize effect on the industry with the nation’s first GMO labeling mandate. Food makers say it would be too complex and expensive to create a separate distribution network for the 626,000-person state.

EXACTLY!  But in addition to the restraint of trade and interstate commerce issues, you also have a potential “existential” problem for many food producers who now have to “guess” if they are or are not GMO-free.

I say “guess” because there is no rigorous standard to determine GMO status … or at least no standard that can’t be challenged by anti-GMO Jacobins.

While many will say it’s just a costly inconvenience for big food companies, no compliance effort will really mitigate risk … let alone improve or save lives. The problem doesn’t go away, it just gets pushed down the street a block or two.

And then what about the little guy? You know the one that makes the “organic”, “fair-trade”, “non-GMO”, “gluten free” foodstuffs that those same Jacobins love to eat?

Conceivably, if someone determines that their can of organic green beans was fertilized by manure from a cow that ate GMO corn, they could be toast! Their organic green bean brand will be pilloried as Franken-food. They will be called a liar and a cheat. Protesters will show up on their doorstep. Their livelihood will be ruined.

A more courageous, all-out effort to fight Vermont would have sent a clear message to other states eyeing GMO labeling and could have saved everyone from this continuing anti-GMO nonsense.

Who knows, it might even have given Chipotle the cover needed to nurse itself back to health?

Andy Grove RIP!


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!



No time to read the thousands of business books and articles that appear annually? You know, the ones that offer “breakthrough ideas”, “timeless” advice, or promise to be the “only” business book you’ll ever need to read?

Well, here’s a shortcut. P.T. Barnum’s Art of Money Getting, written in 1880. (The link is free, so you don’t even have to buy anything!)

In point of fact, his 20 “golden rules” for money making are timeless! They maybe the only thing you’ll ever need to read on business.

Here are a couple of gems.

On avoiding debt:

…You give the note on interest and it commences working against you; “it is a dead horse.” The creditor goes to bed at night and wakes up in the morning better off than when he retired to bed, because his interest has increased during the night, but you grow poorer while you are sleeping, for the interest is accumulating against you.

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master. When you have it mastering you; when interest is constantly piling up against you, it will keep you down in the worst kind of slavery. But let money work for you, and you have the most devoted servant in the world. It is no “eye-servant.” There is nothing animate or inanimate that will work so faithfully as money when placed at interest, well secured. It works night and day, and in wet or dry weather.

On the integrity, value and honesty of commerce:

The history of money-getting, which is commerce, is a history of civilization, and wherever trade has flourished most, there, too, have art and science produced the noblest fruits. In fact, as a general thing, money-getters are the benefactors of our race. To them, in a great measure, are we indebted for our institutions of learning and of art, our academies, colleges and churches. It is no argument against the desire for, or the possession of, wealth, to say that there are sometimes misers who hoard money only for the sake of hoarding and who have no higher aspiration than to grasp everything which comes within their reach. As we have sometimes hypocrites in religion, and demagogues in politics, so there are occasionally misers among money-getters. These, however, are only exceptions to the general rule. But when, in this country, we find such a nuisance and stumbling block as a miser, we remember with gratitude that in America we have no laws of primogeniture, and that in the due course of nature the time will come when the hoarded dust will be scattered for the benefit of mankind. To all men and women, therefore, do I conscientiously say, make money honestly, and not otherwise, for Shakespeare has truly said, “He that wants money, means, and content, is without three good friends.”

And by the way, Mr. Barnum, probably NEVER said “A sucker is born every minute.”


Last weekend, Ockham’s justice passed away. Antonin Scalia was as consequential a person as one could ever want to be. My guess is history will eventually place him among the top 5 or 10 judicial minds of all time.

But, interestingly, his impact wasn’t due to intellectual innovation. Instead, it was because he insisted on NOT making stuff up. In essence, his “originalism” was that the words and meaning intended when laws were written mean the same thing now. To him, this was a bulwark against tyranny.

And it’s a pretty good all around strategy for those of us in the business world as well! Tortured efforts to “innovate” meaning, whether to excuse bad decisions or paper over departures from principles and objectives, will eventually get you into trouble.

Of Scalia’s many excellent insights about law and life, I’m particularly fond of this rumination on being a Christian…

God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools … and he has not been disappointed. … If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.

This nails it!

If you know people who act like this or think these strictures are appropriate, mocking them is appropriate!! PLEASE DO SO WITH VIGOR!!

Here is a remarkable Peter Robinson interview with former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Not what you expect … Enjoy it!