Article by Benjamin Gilad

If someone told you they were very happy they moved to a new place that has low wages, cramped living space, high rent, draconian health policy (two years of lockdown), people are chronically late, and shopping options are very limited, what would you think?

All else being equal, you’d think that the statement of happiness is paradoxical. If it weren’t, we’d see a wave of immigrants crossing the mostly open US border in the other direction. Perhaps there is a different theory (narrative) that more accurately describes the true thinking of that person. It’s hard to admit you wasted two years, so you put on a brave face.

That is exactly what I thought when I read about a woman’s description on Insider of her “happy move” from the US to Dublin (Ireland) where she seems to have accomplished little. You might have seen this piece too. Have you stopped to think: Is she for real?

If you did, you are a budding intelligence analyst. That’s because intelligence analysis thrives on paradoxes. In my Competitive Blindspots course, I pay close attention to how managers handle contradictions like the above. Do they accept “official versions” of events at face value? If they do, I recommend they move to marketing.

Why untrained information practitioners are bad news for their companies

Some companies have the idea that if you are a marketing manager or a product manager with several years of experience, you can automatically qualify to do competitive intelligence. When they promote/hire these managers to CI roles and do not send them to be trained in CI, they reflect an attitude of “swim or sink.” It’s a mistake, as many sink. Since I lead a CI certification institute, you probably question my motive in saying that. You’d be absolutely right.

The most serious problem of being untrained is that their companies fail to pay me for training, and again I must postpone buying that yacht from Bezos. Even if they are trained by others, it’s better than “winging it.” I respect the work @David Kalinowski, SCIP’s chief trainer, and @Cam Mackey, SCIP’s CEO do in this space. We complement each other.   

But if they are untrained, they can actually cause serious damage to their unsuspecting companies. How can that be? After all, all they do is fetch (legally and ethically) public data/information. But untrained information practitioners (so-called “stick fetchers”) serving facts straight-up miss the idea behind any and every true intelligence. And their naivete can cost their companies a fortune.

Stick fetching- the term we coined back in the 90s for serving facts straight up – ignores the technique of constructing an alternative explanation for an event that is as good or better as the “official line.” It is what is known colloquially as Reading-between-the-lines (RBTL).

RBTL becomes paramount when analyzing product announcements, 10Ks, Capex plans, acquisitions, earning shortfalls, ESG’s latest hype, and many other strategic moves where the marketing communication machines at the PR agencies work overtime to do a positive spin. For example, your competitor boasts that its R&D is making breakthrough progress in Cloud something-or-another, yet at the same time, it’s buying a startup with a similar product paying an exorbitant premium.

The technique of “reading-between-the-lines”

This well-known technique of “reading between the lines” is so fundamental to intelligence analysts, I make sure to train my CIP™ to deploy it in our first analytical course, Competitive Blindspots. It changes the perception of what’s real very fast. In a world dominated by hype, untrained “stick fetchers” are dangerously naïve. Their bosses are dangerously misinformed (and I do not use “misinformation” as Neil Young does).  

Alternative perspective: Do you have regrets?

People say “I have no regrets” because it saves them from cognitive dissonance, but the truth is we are all “satisficers” as Noble winner Herbert Simon described in his model of suboptimal decisions. We make mistakes given the state of imperfect knowledge about the objective situation. To answer a regret question honestly, one may ask: What would have happened if you made a different decision? We would never know, right? But we can imagine. Perhaps that is more appropriate than sheer regret- just a question of imaginable paths.

Do you have any regrets (aside from reading this post?)  I know I do. It’s a “benefit” of growing old.

Follow me on for more alternative perspectives.

Ben Gilad will be teaching the RBTL on Nov. 2th, 2022 in Competitive Blindspots’ virtual class.