Examples of competitive intelligence failures and blind spots are cited to emphasize the importance and value of CI to an organization. A recent one is the failure of Blockbuster to see opportunity to take its business online – a blunder that cost it its very existence. In India one of the oft quoted example is that of HLL and Nirma in the 1980s. There are, of course, many others…
These companies did not have incompetent senior management. They were large companies with deep pockets. It is difficult to see how they could have missed, what in retrospect, seems obvious to us. That organizations that don’t do any CI at all fall into such traps is understandable. But history shows that this can happen even in organizations that do competitive intelligence.
Does the boss really know best?
There could be many reasons for this. One possible reason is related to the CI function itself. CI analysts provide an objective third party view on the organization’s business, as they are not involved in its operations. They have a responsibility to bring to the notice of decision makers, trends and risks that they may otherwise miss.
It is true that converting data and information into intelligence requires an in-depth understanding of the business. And who has better understanding of the business than the senior executives/ decision makers? Senior executives have a deep and hands-on knowledge of the industry, the company, organizational dynamics, etc.
The CI analyst is justified in worrying that his intelligence may appear shallow in comparison to what the decision maker can produce. Very often the boss may actually tell him not to bother with the analysis, but to give him only the raw data and information. But does the boss really know best?
History suggests that bosses don’t always know best. They may miss what the data is saying to them for several reasons:
- Although bosses do have more experience, knowledge and insights on the industry, they have, like all the rest of us, their own pet peeves, prejudices and biases.
- Their perspective may be limited to the particular function or aspect of business they have experience in.
- Since they operate within a certain set of constraints, they tend to think only within the boundaries of those constraints.
- Familiarity breeds neglect - They may not notice things they see and encounter regularly. I liked the reference to a Sherlock Holmes and Watson conversation (A Scandal in Bohemia) I came across in Ben Gilad’s book on Early Warning:
“For example, you have frequently seen the steps with lead from the hall to this room.”
“Well, some hundreds of times”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many? I don’t know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed and yet you have seen. That’s just it. Now I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”
The CI analyst may be doing the organization harm, by not giving the bosses what they “need”, irrespective of the whether they “want” it. This is trickier for consultants than it is for CI practitioners. Clients are not always forthcoming with explaining the real “need” to the consultant, but want only information that they have identified as their need. If consultants want to truly make a contribution to their client organizations, it is in their interest to persuade the clients to explain...