Anatomy of CI – Part 1

Heath Gross

Over the years there have been numerous comparisons between organizations and organisms, as they share many fundamental similarities, namely:

  • Organisms are essentially ‘living’ systems that depend on the external environment to meet their needs
  • Organizations are made up of interconnected sub systems that must work together to adapt, grow and thrive

If you think of your organization as an organism, then one could argue that as CI professionals, we are the eyes and ears.  It is our responsibility to keep a diligent watch on the competitive landscape: to watch for market opportunities and to listen for threats. We can take this analogy even further as we explore, “The Anatomy of CI”.

Brain: Decision Making

Just like the human brain, the brain of an organization is subdivided into multiple parts, each one responsible for different aspects of decision making: R&D, marketing, operations, etc.  Like a human brain, the organization brain must make thousands of decisions each day, and like the human brain, it requires the input of information from the five senses.

Eyes:  Secondary Research

Let’s start with the eyes. For illustration purposes, think of the eyes as information that is gathered through the myriad of secondary sources your organization internalizes every day.  This could be open source information from publications, websites, papers, news sites, etc.

It also includes syndicated reports that are produced by specialized research organizations. Furthermore, it includes the results of the internal research conducted by the organization, this would include clinical research results, market research, sales projections, etc.

Like the human eye, which collects and processes billions of images every day to help the brain make decisions, the organization too, relies on words and images to inform the tactical and strategic thinking of the organization.

Without its eyes, without the ability to see, the ability to gather all that secondary information, the organization would be blind, left groping in the marketplace without a clear path or direction.

As CI professionals, we are not responsible for reading everything, just as our eyes are not capable of seeing everything at one time. Our role is to ensure the organization is focused on the right material, and that decision makers have access to the secondary information they need to make informed decisions.

Ears: Primary Research

As CI professionals we should not rely on our eyes only.

Previously I mentioned that as CI professionals we are the eyes and ears of the organization.  So, what is it we are listing to, and what are we listening for?

If the organization’s eyes are used for gathering and processing written information, or secondary, then the ears are used to listen, to hear what is being said.  Our ‘ears’ are used for gathering and processing primary information: that which comes directly from individuals: customers, vendors, suppliers, analysts, and even competitors.

First let us look at the right ear.  The right ear in our analogy is trained on the customer, or the end user.  The input comes from numerous sources including Voice of Customer studies, focus groups, and market research.  From these inputs the organization can listen to opinions gathered directly from key stakeholders, leveraging what is heard to inform the decision making of the brain.

However, humans have two ears.  There are two primary reasons for this. First, it provides bi-directional information gathering enabling us to hear what is happening in two directions simultaneously.  The placement of the human ear on either side of the head helps prevent us from being surprised by predators. It is defensive in nature.

An additional benefit to having two ears is sound location.  As sounds are heard in one ear, the brain can process the sound and compare it to the sounds coming through the other ear.  Is a matter of nanoseconds, the brain can use the two data points to help determine the distance, direction and movement of the source of the sound.  The same is true when it comes to the organization.  If the right ear is trained on customers and end users, what is the second ear listening to?

The left ear is trained on primary competitive intelligence (CI).  Like the right ear, the input comes from primary sources, what is being said.  However, rather than focusing on customers and end users, the left ear is focused on the competitive environment.  Notice I did not say it is focused just on competitors; if that were the case, we would call it ‘Competitor Intelligence’.  Competitive Intelligence is much broader, it is used to listen for disruption caused by regulatory events, changes in the industry ecosystem, and, yes, competitor activity.   Primary based CI specializes in gathering information from stakeholders through interactions and direct interviews.

Working together, the two ears provide the organization with bidirectional intelligence, helping to identify threats and determine the distance, direction, and movement of an opportunity.

Be on the lookout for part 2 of this blog series.

Heath Gross
Founder / CEO