How intelligent is your company?

What you should know about "Competitive Intelligence Advantage" if you have not yet read it


I rarely read business books, especially in my field, so I was very happy to receive a copy of the book "Competitive Intelligence Advantage"by Seena Sharp.

 In many respects, the book is a good introduction to Competitive Intelligence. It covers the aspects of the sources of information, the need to check the validity of the information, the stages of CI, and the differences- and linkages with market research. I selfishly enjoyed the first part of the book more (when she is grasping the challenge of describing the mindset of Competitive Intelligence ) than the second half (geared towards to less experienced Competitive Intelligence professionals). It is always challenging to write a book that addresses both the novice (hence the chapter on "what is competitive intelligence" is ) and the seasoned practitioner - who is looking at the internal implementation of the process and the way to add most value.

What I learned / liked

In the first part of the book, Sheen has tackled  in the very tough - yet crucial - challenge of demystifying what is the core of the Competitive Intelligence: how to help management anticipate. The following quote:

" The Mind can only see what it is prepared to do"

by Edward de Bono sets the tone right away and introduces the challenges posed by biases in the analysis. I have enjoyed the first chapters of the book immensely. Lots of examples, and some fantastic quotes. My favorite one is "Trust, but verify" by Ronald Reagan capture well the mindset any analysts working on analyzing strategy . I also like the following:  "To be competitive we have to constantly reexamine our assumptions" (Michael Porter in "Competitive Strategy"), or "Unlearn what is no longer true"

I love the wealth of counter intuitive examples and facts she has put forward in different parts of the book, emphasizing the importance to be surprised at anomalies, a rare skill that I do not see often in companies.

Sheena has a nice spin on the traditional definition of Competitive Intelligence:

"Competitive Intelligence is the knowledge and foreknowledge about the entire business environment that results in action".

Although I disagree about the last part - that knowledge does not always have to result in action (I believe that reflecting on your market, pausing to think about what's ahead can be in itself a huge value the process brings), she captures the overall change in our industry where competitor analysis becomes a lot less relevant, and the understanding of the environment a lot more. I can't help but reflect that this is finally going to happen - even if my experience with CEOs and companies is still that few spend real quality time looking forward. She rightly points out the disconnect senior executives have with their internal operations when she asks "How many times have executives used the company's call center or their internal help desk ?". Finally she captures well the essence of the question on the frequent question of ROI in Competitive Intelligence: how do I measure the value a Competitive Intelligence process brings to my organization ?

What I skipped - or If someone mentions SWOT again, I scream !

After talking about sources of information, she offers relatively few insights about analysis techniques, not offers frameworks or tools to guide the process to get insight from data ( note: here is a product plug - we do ! see here )

A few words about SWOT: ""Performing SWOT is quite valuable"" says the author - I think that SWOT is a nice way to structure data, certainly not to add value to it (got to write a blog post about this, and suggest alternatives...). A small attempt is made as suggesting avenues for trend analysis, but I wish she had elaborated more on the subject.

"Consumer expectations are often set ouside of your own industry (from trendwatching Bruce Nussbaum). Maybe it is because Intelligence requires context and thoughtful analysis, contemplation for what it really means data is likely to be accepted while intelligence is more apt to be debated and argued"


Speed reading

Read page 17 into the unusual facts she pulled out - any of those can generate new business ideas or challenge common wisdom:

  • "Pepsi is China's largest potato grower" or Los Angeles County is the largest manufacturing center in the United States""
  • " American women are the fastest-growing part of the motorcycle business"" - hey, I am even one of them - not American, but proud owner of a motorcycle license !  
  • "Gen Yers are the biggest users of libraries".

Read page 162- the checklist of questions to ask to check for blindspots. I like those:  "do you know what's no longer true"? or "do you have a contrarian in your organization ?"

Read page 268 for attributes of a good CI professional. This questions gets asked to me often when people are hiring and need to write the job description


To end this little note, here are a few very practical tips and processes

Here are a few tips I like that Seena is proposing:

  • The walk-in whiteboard: one of her clients had placed a whiteboard in the corridor where employees would write about any information they thought would e of interest in the company - then sponsored a lunch to discuss the items. The process brought lots of value: a teaching tool to relay what is important, the ability to meet people from different functions, an ability to track weak signals, and creates all lots of goodwill and energy
  • Use the Supreme Court Approach: the skill and the courage to write "dissenting papers"
  • I like her comments about making presentations to school children




Looking forward to your comments ...


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  • Posted by som said:

    21/07/2010 6:31am (10 years ago) Thanks, interesting. I haven't read either of these books but like the quotes especially Porter, 'CI allow us to constantly challenge one's assumptions'.
    Re: SWOT, dare I mention! I find SWOT more than just a way of 'structuring info'. but it does enable one to think a bit more in depth about the various influential factors.

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