By Dr. Ben Gilad, ACI Faculty

A Note from the Author:

This is a cheesy post but make sure you read it.  You will never forget it.

The Academy of Competitive Intelligence was the first to offer its entire CIP™ certificate as an online program. The choice between online and face to face is easy. Face to face is absolutely superior when it comes to learning in this field. But – for some, face to face is impossible. Our approach, however, was never “let’s paste some voice over slides.” There is significant research showing that the real issue in learning is not online or face to face but simply —

Boring or interesting? Thought provoking or brain cell killing?

So, as our alumni say, we deliver a kick-ass series of classroom programs, or for those who can’t travel, a complete distance learning alternative.  

Read the very personal and quite amazing story about one manager who completed the online CIP (basic and advanced) to understand what I’m talking about.

– Ben Gilad

Introducing: Chris Bowman

Chris Bowman, the Competitive Intelligence analyst for Alcon, a leading vision care company (subsidiary of Novartis) has been blind since the age of 19. I met Chris while working with his company. I knew he got his CIP certification (levels I and II) from our online program. I found several things ironic here: a blind man working for a vision care company and a blind man in a role which is basically seeing things before others do.

Despite what might initially appear to be a handicap, Chris is one hell of a Competitive Intelligence analyst, everything a CIP should be. I know many self-proclaimed pundits who can see and are blinder than bat when it comes to what real CI is.  Below are excerpts from an interview with Chris from which I believe everyone can learn something.

How did you come to choose Competitive Intelligence as your field?

Chris:  My background is in market research and when the opportunity arose to begin the competitive intelligence function at Alcon, I jumped at the chance.

How Did You Go about Looking for Competitive Intelligence Training?

Chris:  My early experiences in Competitive Intelligence were unfocused attempts to provide value to the organization.  I was an excellent librarian who provided the best competitive information you have ever seen.  My training was learned at the school of hard knocks—learning on the job with little idea of how to be an effective Competitive Intelligence professional.  I learned of the certification course from a fellow Competitive Intelligence professional.

Describe your experience with the CIP Online program? What did you like about it, what didn’t you like?

Chris:  My first attempts to enroll in the in-person course were derailed by budget cuts within the company.  Early in the following year, I enrolled in the distance learning certification course to eliminate the chance of budget cuts affecting my certification efforts.  I expected a boring, lecture-based course that I would need toothpicks to keep my eyelids open.  Nothing could be more from the truth….high energy courses that gave great value to my professional career.

It was disappointing that I wasn’t able to meet others in the field and learn from their experiences or that I couldn’t participate in the role-playing activities but for my unique situation, the distance learning course was ideal.

How difficult was it to do the certification exam without sitting through the live classes?

Chris:  The informational content for the in-person and distance learning courses seems very similar in that the videos watched online are previously recorded, in-person classes.  While the online method misses out on role-playing activities, personal interaction, and heckling from the Competitive Intelligence professors, some people just are not able to attend the in-person program.

For my personal situation, I would be at a distinct disadvantage not being able to follow the in-person activities with the various printed hand-outs during the class.  I had the ability to read the electronic materials, and then “view” the online videos several times to understand the content.  Testing is difficult for the distance learning participants but not because of the learning format…it is difficult because the test is challenging and designed to test your knowledge for certification!

Which courses did you like the most? Why?

Chris:  Personally, I enjoyed the war game and scenario planning courses the most.  Being a strategic thinker is important and is an aspect of my professional development that I have tried to improve.  These courses provided the most value in that area.  These are more advanced topics but the thing I like about the certification process is that the basics are covered early and progress to increasingly more advanced Competitive Intelligence skills.

Are there any challenges to applying what you learned given your blindness? How do you deal with those?

Chris:  The biggest challenges I face doesn’t change from day-to-day or even by job function – it relates to distributing the insights.  Taking these insights and creating well-designed output to various parts of the organization can be a challenge.  We can collect high impact Competitive Intelligence but if the insights aren’t packaged well or with some level of pre-thought, much of the inherent value is not perceived by your internal stakeholders.

Do you think that being blind hinders your effectiveness as a Competitive Intelligence analyst in any way?

Chris:  Certainly, I would be crazy to pretend that being blind doesn’t have disadvantages associated with the disability.  However, I can out-perform those around me in one key area and this has held true throughout my career:  Being consistently more prepared than your colleagues can gain some of the disadvantage back.

Can you give the reader an idea how being prepared “saves the day?”

I hired a vendor to conduct Competitive Intelligence at some conference.  I gave it a list of targets so it wasn’t a complete data dump. One of the targets created a product that would present significant strategic risk to one of our existing lines in vision care. It would have basically eliminated the need for our product in one area.

The vendor came back with a lot of data from the conference, most of it tactical. However, I poured over the data and realized we can uncover the product’s reimbursement strategy from the public data.

Based on my preparation for this one meeting of the internal team in the affected area, a counter strategy was developed that resulted in the competitor’s product being made much less profitable for the customer. All it took was one piece of datum, placed into the right risk/opportunity perspective.

What do you consider your greatest achievement as a Competitive Intelligence analyst?

Chris:  Current statistics estimate that nearly 70% of all “employable” visually impaired people are unemployed and it is verified that Americans view lack of sight as their “biggest fear.”  So, it is easy to understand that in a corporate environment, many without sight are relegated to token positions within companies that offer little career development opportunities.  Additionally, little is expected.  Respect for the individual tends to revolve around the blinded individual’s ‘courage or willingness to work for a living’ while it is common that associates in influential positions have little professional respect for the person’s capabilities.

The achievement that I am most proud of is being at a company for 21 years and moving past the inspirational respect and into the class of professional respect.

Any advice to newcomers to the field?

Chris:  It is helpful – though not always possible – if you can stay focused in your particular industry.  If your coverage is too broad, you risk providing general coverage and not being allowed a ‘seat at the table’ since you aren’t associated with any one particular franchise.

Secondly, it is easy to provide information on competitor’s actions but difficult to explain the ‘why,’ ‘how it impacts your company,’ or ‘actionable recommendations’ to respond to the competitive event.  Continually develop these skills so you can provide internal value and be perceived as a strategic partner.