The Problem with Competitive Intelligence


For those not famil­iar with CI, CI is com­pet­i­tive intel­li­gence.  Defined by the SCIP – Strategic & Competitive Intelligence Professionals as: “Com­pet­i­tive intel­li­gence (CI) is the process of mon­i­tor­ing the com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment and ana­lyz­ing the find­ings in the con­text of inter­nal issues, for the pur­pose of deci­sion support.”

Lit­er­ally, keep­ing lead­er­ship informed on every­thing they need to know to keep the busi­ness com­pet­i­tive and suc­cess­ful.  CI accord­ing to that def­i­n­i­tion needs to know how every­thing in the com­pany works, every­thing that hap­pens inside and out­side the com­pany rel­e­vant to the busi­ness, what the needs, expec­ta­tions, and desires of lead­er­ship are; and what needs to come to the atten­tion of the deci­sion mak­ers to make informed deci­sions.  Good intel­li­gence often has sum­ma­rized analy­sis, options, rec­om­men­da­tions, and the risks and con­se­quences asso­ci­ated with them.

The CI Mind

Com­pet­i­tive Intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als are smart.

Let me take that back.  CI pro­fes­sion­als are VERY smart.  They are up there with sci­en­tists and engi­neers.  They tend to be very tech­ni­cal, pre­cise and wonk­ish (tech­ni­cally pedan­tic).  So just like sci­en­tists and engi­neers they tend to be very good at what they do, under­stand all the details, intri­cately com­pre­hend the value or their work, and can’t fathom why any­one wouldn’t appre­ci­ate and under­stand their work and uti­lize it properly.

But there is a prob­lem with being the smartest guy in the room.

The Exec­u­tive Mind

Now con­sider for a moment the typ­i­cal exec­u­tive mind.  They are obvi­ously smart and good enough to get and keep the job, they are not dum­mies.  The aver­age exec­u­tive is equal parts arro­gance, abil­ity, over­worked stress and inse­cu­rity from fight­ing to get and keep their job.  Most exec­u­tives are not trained or groomed for the posi­tion.  The get pro­moted on merit and do their best to keep up (Google “Peter Prin­ci­ple”).  Most of the execs I’ve worked with put in 60 — 80 hours a week, answer sev­eral hun­dred emails a day, and have to keep track of sev­eral hun­dred respon­si­bil­i­ties and issues, includ­ing lit­tle things like bud­gets, hir­ing and fir­ing, respon­si­bil­ity for profit and loss, and sur­viv­ing com­pet­i­tive inter­nal pol­i­tics on top of com­pet­i­tive busi­ness.  They answer work emails on their black­ber­ries on nights and week­ends.  Its always inter­est­ing to see a string of emails that started at mid­night, bounced between 10 peo­ple in the mid­dle of the night and hits you in box at 4am with a note from your boss say­ing — “Urgent, address this first thing when you get in the office.”

It’s a very hard job, but good for worka­holics, and many use perks like golf meet­ings, lunch meet­ings, gen­er­ous vaca­tions, Mar­riott points and big bonuses to man­age stress.

Here’s the point, say you are a expe­ri­enced exec­u­tive, you’re under the gun try­ing to com­pete and and pre­vent lay­offs in a dif­fi­cult econ­omy.  The CFO keeps beat­ing you up on your bud­get, the VP of HR is hound­ing you to get eval­u­a­tions out, and the CEO wants to know why your group isn’t per­form­ing as promised.  You are under tremen­dous pres­sure and have plenty to lose (all the perks and that great salary).

Then some geek from some dark cor­ner of com­pet­i­tive intel­li­gence walks in, quickly com­presses 6 months of research and analy­sis into a 10 minute power point sum­mary, and then expects you to do some­thing with it.  You think there’s prob­a­bly some­thing to this, this CI guy is cer­tainly smart and could prob­a­bly do your job.  And worse, while you’ve spent the past few months in meet­ings and fire fight­ing, here’s some genius ana­lyst that had the lux­ury of a few months to fig­ure out every­thing you’re prob­a­bly doing wrong or ignoring.

How do you take advan­tage of this with­out look­ing stu­pid?  How do you explain this to any­one else when you’re not quite sure you get it?  How do you main­tain author­ity if you start ask­ing CI dumb ques­tions? How the heck do you know you can trust this CI?  Where did it come from?  Is it worth risk­ing your career to stick your neck out act­ing on this intel­li­gence you barely under­stand done by some­body you barely know?

Even worse, say the pre­sen­ta­tion is done to a room full of com­pet­i­tive and ner­vous exec­u­tives.  Nobody wants to appear stu­pid or weak, exec­u­tives already know every­thing right?  So every­body pre­tends they under­stand, talks around the issue, and unless they are part of a very pro­gres­sive and sophis­ti­cated cor­po­rate cul­ture, odds are their best self inter­est is to sim­ply ignore the intel­li­gence report after the meet­ing, main­tain the sta­tus quo,  and hope either it goes away or the CEO does some­thing with it.  Act­ing on it is not worth the risk, even if it looks good.

Source: Ted S Galpin, to continue, link.

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