Review: Competitive Intelligence Advantage: How to Minimize Risk, Avoid Surprises, and Grow Your Business in a Changing World

5 Star, Intelligence (Commercial)
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5.0 out of 5 starsBest Possible Starting Point for Executives & Students

October 20, 2009

Seena Sharp

This book is a gem. It is a rare book that I would recommend equally to senior executives and students thinking about a career path, but this is such a book. I agreed to review this book for the publisher and received a free copy. I’ve known the author since the early 1990’s when the U.S. Government first tried to learn how to do commercial intelligence, calling it Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). They still don’t get it, for the same reason most executives don’t get it: arrogance, ignorance, and a complacency that comes from having too much money and not enough accountability.Before laying down my notes, let me first place this book squarely in the top twelve books in English. This is the one I would recommend to anyone as a starter, followed by:

Ben Gilad, Blindspots (Infonortics, UK), order online from them directly
Early Warning: Using Competitive Intelligence to Anticipate Market Shifts, Control Risk, and Create Powerful Strategies
Measuring the Effectiveness of Competitive Intelligence: Assessing & Communicating CI’s Value to Your Organization
Super Searchers Do Business
Super Searchers on Competitive Intelligence: The Online and Offline Secrets of Top CI Researchers (Super Searchers series)
Business and Competitive Analysis: Effective Application of New and Classic Methods
Building & Running a Successful Research Business: A Guide for the Independent Information Professional
The New Competitor Intelligence: The Complete Resource for Finding, Analyzing, and Using Information about Your Competitors
Keeping Abreast of Science and Technology: Technical Intelligence for Business
The New Craft of Intelligence: Personal, Public, & Political–Citizen’s Action Handbook for Fighting Terrorism, Genocide, Disease, Toxic Bombs, & Corruption
Information Operations: All Information, All Languages, All the Time
The last are mine, as with all my books free online at Phi Beta Iota, the Public Intelligence Blog. There are MANY books in this field, some listed at the back of this book. For me it boils down to culture, structure, sources, and process. CULTURE: from the CEO to the Chief Content Officer or Chief Knowledge Officer, do the bottom-line bosses understand that Competitive Intelligence is worth at least 20% of their gross in new revenue or avoidance of lost revenue? STRUCTURE: Is there at least a six person CI shop with a direct report relationship to the CEO or no less than one down from the CEO? SOURCES: Does the CI staff have a budget for serious research including out-sourcing of special studies and integration of appropriate processing power? PROCESS: Is the CI staff integrated into both the day to day decision-making as well as the strategic forward thinking? Nothing is dumber than “this is what we’ve decided to do, tell us about the path.”

Now my notes on this book, which fully satisfies as an overview of the above and as an introduction to the broader literature.

1. External matters. It has been a long time in coming, but both the commercial intelligence industry (which is emergent from the scattered competitive intelligence industry) and the key customers including law firms are starting to realize that the customer’s future needs, unstated needs, and the totality of the external environment are vastly more vital than internal data mining also badly known as Business Intelligence. One shipping executive told me they learned the hard way that in one particular African country with a strong textile industry, the regulatory and corruption context was so bad that the fashion cycle was OVER before they could get the finished goods out of the country. Never assume anything and forget the past.

2. Truth matters. The author is very polite on this point, one that the U.S. Government at the political and senior executive level still does not appreciate. I am totally enchanted by the early quote from the chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, “When things are not going well, until you get the truth out on the table, no matter how ugly, you are not in a position to deal with it.” That one quote made this book worthwhile for me.

3. Executive short-falls. I like to quote Ben Gilad, who along with this author and Jan Herring and Dick Klavans and Babette Bensoussan are among my most respected colleagues: writing in BLINDSPOTS: replacing myths, beliefs, and assumptions with market realities (Infonortics UK 1996): “Top managers’ information is invariably either biased, subjecive, filtered or late.” Also from Gilad: “Using intelligence correctly requires a fundamental change in the way top executives make decisions.” The author does a devastatingly elegant job of putting executive naivete in its place early on, the same section serving as a “lay of the land” for any aspiring commercial intelligence practitioner.

4. Definitions and Scope. The middle of the book is great on definitions and strong in comparing market research with competitive intelligence on multiple levels. In Figure 3.1 on Page 38 th author lists the following as being essential elements of any comprehensive endeavor (I list them alphabetically: Culture; Customers; Demographics; Distributors; Economy; Government and Industry Regulations; Other Industries; Prospects; Substitutes; Suppliers; Technology AND Competitors.  I will never forget the head of the French steel industry lamenting in 1993 that after spending a ton of money on studying all other national steel industries, they got cut off at the knees because they failed to realize plastic would be a substitute for automobile parts including underside parts.

5. Data, Information, and Intelligence. The author does a very fine job, the best I have seen by anyone else, distinguishing among data (pieces), information (a generic collage) and intelligence (actionable answers for specific executives making specific decisions). I like the general discussion of know versus don’t know, today versus tomorrow, and the integration of assumptions (question them), changes (recognize them), and strategies (have at least one). I especially like the author’s emphasis on encouraging dissent and re-evaluating soup to nuts every single year.

6. Creating or Employing a CI Capability. This portion of the book is intended to be an overview and it does a fine job there. The author also reviews sources and puts Google in its place, but fails to mention that advanced search (not what Google offers, but understanding its actual code language and using it to create subsets within subsets) offsets some of Google’s shortfalls. The author properly notes that “it’s not about software,” and provides proper emphasis on the human aspect of intelligence, something I address in comprehensive manner with my Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Trilogy at the Public Intelligence Blog.

7. Applications. Chapter 7 details more than a dozen applications of CI, with over 70 examples of how and when to use CI.8. Myths and Advantages. The book ends with a chapter on the 13 myths of CI followed by another on the 15 advantages of CI, and as tempted as I am to list them here, I will simply note that they also make the book worthy of purchase in and of themselves.

This book has been endorsed by Cyndi Allgaier, Babette Bensousson, and Jan Herring, whom I know to be among the top dozen English-language practitioners, and while I am focused more on creating a World Brain with embedded EarthGame that brings all eight tribes of intelligence together (Academic, Civil Society, Commercial, Government, Law Enforcement, Media, Military, and Non-Governmental), I believe this book to be the new leader, the new best in class offering for anyone thinking about “getting a grip” on reality so as to survive.

The author has done all of us a great service in producing something that is easy to read, up to date, and a great starting point for anyone from the CEO of Exxon (poor fellow) to a student at any community college wondering about being a Chief Sustainability Officer versus being a Chief Knowledge Officer–NEWS FLASH: you cannot be one without the other, do both.

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