CI and special librarians by John McGonagle

March 9, 2017

The other day, I was talking with Lora Bray, a friend who is a member of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), about CI and special librarians. The reason for the conversation is a new book Carolyn Vella and I have coming out. But more on that at a later date.

The issue we talked about is that while some special librarians are interested in competitive intelligence, there is not yet a lot of movement of them from that career to into one in CI. And that is too bad for them – and bad for business as well. Why? Let me explain.

In developing CI, several skills, including research experience and discipline, analytical skills, and industry experience, are very useful. Trained librarians possess a good measure of them:

They are trained in secondary research, probably far better than those of us whose “training” consisted in researching a couple of college papers years ago. And secondary research is not only a key element in providing CI, it is an important predicate to doing effective primary, particularly elicitation, interviews.

They have developed analytical skills. Effective secondary research requires analytical skills in defining the research scope, including “push backs”. It then requires analysis to separate useful and critical data from a mass of trivia and repetitive data.

What they usually lack are two other key elements: primary research training and industry specific experience.

By training in primary research, I mean in managing and conducting interviews, particularly elicitation interviews. But that training can be acquired relatively quickly.

By Industry specific experience, I mean line experience and/or formal education on the technology underlying an industry or product. But, that requirement is overly preferred in hiring. You don’t believe me? Look, for example, at the giant consulting firms that senior management often hires – how many of the associates, managers, and partners ever designed, made, serviced, or sold your specific product (or service)? Hint: not very many. Especially with respect to CI, industry specific experience is way over-valued. In my experience, an internal CI staffer should, ideally, have both CI experience and industry experience. But, the balance, when that is not available, and it usually is not, should lean heavily towards more CI experience rather than more industry specific experience. Why? You can usually learn about the basics of an industry or product faster than you can master doing effective, ethical CI. And, almost every industry is today facing technological and cultural changes, and even upheavals, which will put a greater value on being able to learn than having learned.

So, if you are adding to your CI team – formal or informal – look at the librarians. And librarians – look at CI.

Source: John McGonagle

Millennials and Competitive Intelligence (Part 1 of 2), John McGonagle

Why this topic? I chose it because there is increasing research to the effect that Millennials, and probably also Gen X, operate differently in the work environment than do those of other generations: Baby Boomers, the Greatest Generation, and other species of dinosaurs.

Some of the key characteristics of Millennials in the workplace, at least as they bear on competitive intelligence, are as follows[1]:

  • They tend to work longer hours than other employees.
  • They are less likely to suggest or to participate in face-to-face activities.
  • They prefer their incoming communications to be written, which means they avoid phone calls and particularly make sure most calls are diverted to voicemail.
  • When they do talk they prefer to keep their talks short, so there is no “small talk”.
  • They are heavily involved with social media, both at their work site and in their private life, and usually include details of both in that media.
  • They prefer to be multitasking, or more accurately multi-conversing, which means they are not necessarily paying complete attention to each of the email, IM, Twitter, and telephone/online conferences that they are simultaneously engaged in.
  • They are regarded generally as willing to “speak their minds”.

In this blog, I want to indicate how this impacts the collection of competitive intelligence from them – having them as targets of CI activities. In the next blog, I will comment on what these things mean when they do their own CI collection, joining into the community of DIYers, as well as when consuming CI provided to them by others.

So let’s first take a quick look at how these characteristics change collecting competitive intelligence from them:

  • Working longer hours – if you are seeking to do an elicitation interview with one of them, you have a good chance of catching them either a little bit before the beginning of the regular workday or, more likely, after the end of the regular workday. They are more likely to be alone and presumably less distracted, making them better elicitation targets.
  • Avoiding face-to-face activities – they are not likely to be able to be easily engaged in conversations aimed at eliciting competitively sensitive information at a trade show, business conference, or the like.
  • Avoiding phone calls and preferring emails – this makes setting up interviews harder because it is not always easy to find individual business email addresses. That is not to say that they cannot be found. But if the only way you can set up an interview with someone who would prefer to have all of their voicemail diverted to record is through an email, you have to do the extra work.
  • Avoiding small talk – by its very nature, an elicitation interview involves some degree of small talk if for no other reason than to conceal the key question or questions that are driving the need for the interview. This means taking a more direct and almost abrupt approach in the hope of getting the data.
  • Social media preference – this makes it easier to collect information on a potential elicitation target by checking his or her Facebook, LinkedIn etc. account. It also means that, unlike older employees at the same enterprise, they are more likely to put competitively sensitive information on these public sites because they believe that all of their life drives the content of their site.
  • Multitasking – if you can get their attention during the combined IM, email or the telephone conversations, you are more likely to be able to elicit at least one or two pieces of competitively useful information because they are not paying full attention to what they are saying; rather their attention is divided between two or among even three separate ongoing communications.
  • Willing to speak their mind – from the point of view of the elicitation interview, that is delightful. Enough said.

[1] For example, see;; and

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