Road to Reconverge


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:

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!


Heads up … next stop for the Aurora WDC sponsored Reconverge:G2 meeting is Minneapolis, September 16-18.  Click Reconverge-September.pdf for the initial flyer.

Co-chairs for the event will be the irrepressible Alysse Nockels of McAfee and the fascinating Jason Voiovich of Logic PD.

You should strongly consider attending.  Send me an email and I’ll get you an exclusive invitation!

Friends, if you have not made plans, do it today! Come to Austin in April!

Come hear Joe Goldberg, Stacey Armijo, Kim Rosengren, Sandra Hughes, Martha Rabin, Steve Douvas, Paul Kinsinger, Bill Hoffman and many more!! Come meet great intelligence leaders. YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS THIS EVENT!

Reconverge:G2 will make its next stop in Austin, Texas, April 8 – 10, 2014.

I have the distinct honor to Co-Chair the Austin event with my friend and colleague Terry Thiele, who is Director of Sustainable Product Strategies at Lubrizol Corporation.

Twice a year Reconverge:G2 brings together a group of true leaders in the competitive intelligence space.  When great minds come together in one place for two days the result is an incredible exchange of knowledge and insight.  It’s also a lot of fun.

Click on the AGENDA to get more details on the fantastic group of speakers and topics that will be covered in Austin.

I had the great opportunity to design and MC the October 10 program at Reconverge:G2 in Indianapolis hosted by Eli Lilly and Aurora WDC.  The theme for the day was Technical Intelligence … which rapidly morphed into what we were really all about:  Competitive Intelligence about Innovation!

The program featured a group of remarkably talented technical intelligence practitioners, including:  Kathy Flynn from Baxter Healthcare; David Conley, a TRIZ expert and President of Innomation Corporation; Dolly Goulart from Qualcomm; Dale Cooper from Procter & Gamble; and Clay Philips from General Motors.

Here are the BIG IDEAS from this information and insight packed program:

  • You can do this!  You need to do this!  Innovation is the great disrupter of business.  It is the un-named competitor and it can arrive almost anywhere in the business model … not just out of the clever minds of current rivals.  Systematic analysis of technology and innovation is a crucial intelligence activity that all of us need to take up.

  • Write a business plan for Competitive Intelligence and Technical Intelligence.  OK this steals from Wednesday keynote Peter Johnson’s advice!  But it applies to the technical intelligence project.  You need to make a plan:  Who is the TI customer?  How will we serve the TI customer?  How will we satisfy the needs of the TI customer?  How will we change outcomes?  Big questions that need to be answered to structure an effective TI program.

  • Speak the language of your commercial customer.  Great technical or innovation intelligence has to speak the language of commercial audiences.  This audience doesn’t need to understand the chemistry; they need to understand why they should invest in the chemistry.  That means you need to frame technical insights in terms of the questions your commercial partners are trying to answer.

  • Appreciate time horizons.  Not every future crisis needs to be addressed today.  Doing innovation intelligence will get you excited, even agitated, about things that are still over the horizon.  Your well-founded concern often doesn’t relate to the issues facing management today.  Have the patience to accept that these short term issues command greater attention … but diligently hammer away at those longer term threats and opportunities and you will get through!

  • Systematic analysis uncovers true patterns.  Technical innovation follows clear and discernible patterns.  Knowledge of these patterns can help organize your technical intelligence work.  Use of systematic analysis can assist in discovering new innovations as well as identifying competitor breakthrough areas.

  • It pays to understand current innovation performance and pay-out.  Understanding the impact of recent innovation on marketplace outcomes is crucial to pointing your intelligence efforts.  It can also help your organization set reasonable innovation goals and better organize product development efforts.

  • Understand that the objective is to help make decisions.  When organizing technical intelligence, keep the end in mind!  That end is enabling decision making … especially decisions made better and before competition.  It’s nice to forecast future innovation threads; it’s better to figure out what options these provide your firm and what decisions can be taken to accelerate progress.

  • Reframe market boundaries and definitions to help position insights.  Bringing trends and innovation predictions to bear on your business often requires that you reframe your market space.  Technologies that disrupt industries often don’t operate inside current market boundaries.  Having clean clothes may or may not require laundry detergents.  Help your organizations see how disruptive ideas often succeed because they draw new boundaries.

  • Find non-traditional sources and precincts to understand disruption.  Doing great technical or innovation intelligence requires you to go beyond the sources of information typically associated with competitor intelligence.  Venture capitalists, academic researchers, incubators, taste mavens … they all live on the cutting edge.  Who’s on that cutting edge in your industry?

  • Create events to demonstrate the potential impact of technology change.  Finding it hard to get executives to pay attention to innovation intelligence?  “Show and Tell” maybe just the ticket.  Creating low risk, high touch events that physically demonstrate how future innovation might manifest itself makes it important and real for any audience (think mock-ups, models, audio-visual displays).  And it’s a lot of fun.



After a long weekend by a lake in southern Illinois, it’s time to get back to blogging.  Especially to download on the excellent insights and fellowship enjoyed at Reconverge:G2 last week in Indianapolis.

First, big thanks to Gail King at Eli Lilly for hosting and to Aurora WDC for running the show.  Also, next time you find yourself in Indianapolis, try the Alexander Hotel.  Very stylish and modern, very comfortable, and located close to all the hip joints in downtown Indy.

Over the coming days, I’ll post more specifics, especially from the Thursday program that we premiered in the Reconverge Blog series last week.  But here are a couple of great top lines from Wednesday’s keynote, Peter Johnson, VP of Strategic Planning at Eli Lilly.

These come from Peter’s 20 years of trying to manage and make use of Competitive Intelligence in strategic planning at the senior executive level.  What he said resonates strongly with my experience over the years sitting on the other side of the table:

  • If you don’t do good CI on your own organization, you’re toast!  Specifically, how well do CI folks understand how decisions get made or how the internal culture operates?  If CI folks can’t place their work product effectively into their organization’s true decision making flow and match its cultural norms, then CI will make only token impact.
  • If CI doesn’t understand the company’s strategy implicitly, it can’t influence it!  Seems simple enough but if CI isn’t on the inside of the discussion, doesn’t understand the assumptions, the aspirations, and the history behind the organization’s strategy, then it might as well be speaking a foreign language when it tries to report insights.

For the final post of this series, I want to explore some of the ways improving your firm’s technical intelligence capability can impact the business. What follows are a series of analysis processes expressed in visual terms.  The concepts are not necessarily new, but their application has often been considered too difficult or the resulting insights too controversial.  Sound technical intelligence tools and techniques have made these analyses much more practical.

At Reconverge:G2 in Indianapolis, the great challenge for both presenters and conference participants will be to bring forth the practical approaches and tools that can deliver these types of analysis, as well as share examples of how they have helped changed strategies, tactics and investment decisions.

The first “must have” for an astute innovation analyst and wise C-Suite is to build what might be termed an innovation landscape. I like to frame this type analysis project as building a geologic map of industry innovation. Think of how oil company geologists prospect and discover oil reserves.  The resulting map would obviously be customized to the industry and firm but could look something like this:


The idea is to quantify and qualify the most important threads of innovation –specific oil fields if you will- along with the potential impact on the specific market –the depth and size of reserves. Ownership of specific threads –or stakes- is overlaid to give management a full sense of where innovation can come from and who will bring it.

Innovation can come from rivals, other industries (substitutes) or flow in from various elements of the business model (the Value Chain).  Quality of innovation, using Clayton Christianson’s definitions, runs across a spectrum from evolutionary to disruptive. Such a canvas opens up the “black box” of the future for managers and can help drive both strategies and tactics.

Flowing from the innovation landscape, another critical piece of analysis is to grade innovation threats and probabilities.  I have often found that this is the hardest discussion for leaders of technical organizations to have with their C-Suite executives.  Fear of losing credibility or resources prevents them putting a stake in the ground and making choices.  This is too bad because making an informed assessment of risk and opportunity –which by its very nature is approximate- forces executives to commit resources to more than just the promise that technical organizations know what’s going on.  Instead, a reasoned assessment galvanizes action, concentrates resources and improves credibility.

What would such an assessment look like?  It would array coming innovation in terms what’s possible with the potential degree of market impact.  This would help executives better understand the relative urgency of innovation moves as well as their best options to lead or defend.  It might look like this:


And getting to specific innovation decisions, the ultimate technical intelligence deliverable would be to present innovation in terms of the choices the firm can make to either defend against or lead innovation in specific markets.  Said differently, what bets can or should be placed?  What can be outsourced?  What can be ignored?  Such a deliverable might look like this:


After evaluating the landscape, grading the threats and possibilities, coalescing options is a crucial game changer.  It provides a path forward beyond insight and foresight.

Now, to be clear, such an analysis product can’t pretend to be exhaustive or precise.  It doesn’t guarantee choices won’t fail to produce results; it doesn’t diminish the chance rivals will discover novel innovation or outsmart you in the market; it doesn’t prevent poor execution.  But it has the chance to paint a pathway to success by describing a more limited set of choices that enable the firm to make bigger, more focused bets.

Why is this important?  Because in the innovation game, many firms seem to forget that novel invention has a much better chance to happen when you increase the shear amount of trial and error.  Who is likely to invent something cool, the firm with 100 people working on a thousand projects or the firm with a thousand people working on a 100 projects?

The competitive intelligence organization that delivers the insight, foresight and recommendations that help a firm concentrate their innovation efforts in this way is truly making world class impact.  Are you doing this?

Originally posted at RECONVERGE.NET.

Competitive Intelligence practitioners understand the need to analyze and draw insights from the competitive landscape.  And, as most practitioners know, this landscape is broader than simply looking at direct rivals.  In public lectures, my friend Seena Sharp likens the landscape to a puzzle, one that differs by company and industry.

Industry Puzzle

Strategic thinkers among us talk much about analyzing this puzzle.  But we often forget how hard it is to populate the puzzle in the first place.  The challenge is to understand where change is happening now and likely to happen in the future.  These centers or drivers of change form the crucial puzzle pieces CI teams have to consider.

However, many of us may be unsuited to the task.  Most of us understand demographics and economics; we’re pretty good at competitive psychology; and we might fancy ourselves students of culture.  But what about technology?  More importantly, what about the intersection of technology with other trends and change drivers?  How well are we able to see the interaction of technology with problems and unmet needs that is going on just below the surface of perception, and that sparks that most important change driver of all, innovation?

Integrating technical intelligence into the competitive intelligence mission enables us to get at these questions and expose the possible sources and direction of innovation in our industries.

Now in part one of this series, I challenged the notion that C-Suite executives are insufficiently future focused.  The reason executives appear preoccupied with the short term, is they understand that without short term success, long term dreams never come true.  The fact is they are paid to be worry about the near, medium AND long term … and to try to understand the relationship between each.

Competitive Intelligence has to help the C-Suite with both challenges:  Win in the short term so that the firm can discover and execute long term growth options.  Technology and innovation represents perhaps the most powerful threat to a firm’s near and long term success.  Understanding technology and innovation is also a tremendous pathway to finding ways for the firm to lead innovation, win in the market, and deliver the company’s long range goals.  Here’s the challenge visually:

TI n Strategy

Technical Intelligence brings tools to the party to help find where innovation is coming from and what it will do to the landscape.  It can also help sort out what moves the company should make to seize the lead in innovation.  On October 10th at RECONVERGE:G2 in Indianapolis, some of the best Technical Intelligence practitioners in the business share how they have helped organizations look into the near and long term future to figure who will innovate and how.

Originally posted at RECONVERGE.NET on September 20, 2013.

When I ran competitive intelligence at Procter & Gamble I was lucky to also have responsibility for “technical intelligence”. This included having a couple of incredibly talented PhD’s working for me.

These individuals, career wise, belonged to P&G’s Research & Development organization but sat with us in Corporate Strategy and owned the company’s Technical Intelligence toolkit – a suite of intellectual property search and analysis tools.

Their location in Corporate Strategy was not the result of some brilliant insight or master political stroke, but it was unique and served us very well.

It enabled P&G to link the technology and commercial aspects of intelligence in ways rarely seen in most organizations. For commercial customers, insight into intellectual property and technical capabilities helped complete the picture of competitor behavior. Understanding commercial choices and capabilities often helped technical audiences understand the logic behind competitor’s innovation choices.

As time went by, we did extensive organization benchmarking, visiting with almost 20 Fortune 1000 firms. These visits included discussions about how firms conducted technical intelligence. More often than not, we found that benchmark firms used technical intelligence largely in the service of legal risk management. Generally, most firms did not see the possibility of using technical intelligence as a future oriented tool that could enable decision making and investment direction.


On October 10th at RECONVERGE:G2 in Indianapolis, we are going to explore how to get technical intelligence tools out of the attic and into the front lines of your competitive intelligence program. We are going look at how to use these tools to better assess competitors and markets as well as help enrich management decision making.

Originally posted at RECONVERGE.NET on September 13, 2013.

What if you could know the future? Or at least know it well enough to make better decisions today?

delphiThe Oracle at Delphi

It’s become cliché to suggest executives show little interest in great future oriented analysis projects because they are too wrapped up in the next quarter or fiscal year. Give the brass a break!

Trust me, they are interested in the future. They want to find the next big thing as much as you do … maybe more so since they control that most important element of all, the money needed to find and exploit big ideas. If they make successful bets, the reward is beyond anything most of us can imagine.

The problem with most future oriented analyses is that they promise the impossible and deliver the obvious. Trends will continue. Innovation will happen in surprising ways. Technology barriers will diminish. Commerce will continue to increase in speed. Blah, blah, blah!

Many futurists make these observations to much ooh and ah. But executives have rightly grown wary of these great prognosticators. They’re suspicious because the prognosticators rarely give solid recommendations on how to act on the next great innovations. And when those innovations arrive on scene they have the chutzpah to suggest they were easy to see coming … like so much of hindsight!

Executives don’t want any more of these laser light shows. What they want is a thorough and honest assessment of possibilities and robust options for what to do about them.

This is fundamentally the role of good technical intelligence. An honest and thorough assessment of the current and future state of technologies: Which companies or organizations have which technologies? Where are these companies and their inventors headed? What are they good at? How durable or sustainable are their inventions? Should we invest in these technologies? How? Through internal discovery and invention? Or through partnerships and acquisitions?

On October 10th at RECONVERGE:G2 in Indianapolis we are going to explore these questions. We are going to have some of the best Technical Intelligence practitioners in the business share how they have helped organizations peer into the future and make better informed decisions in the present.

Originally posted at RECONVERGE.NET on September 6, 2013.