By Dr. Ben Gilad, ACI Faculty

Do you know what BOK is? No? Don’t worry. It makes no practical difference. BOK stands for Body of Knowledge. Professions often create them to help define and distinguish their fields from other professions and disciplines.   In addition, a BOK is typically used to try and create respectability and bring standards to a field. But I believe the concept has been hijacked, watered down or totally misused.  If you are looking for a body of “knowledge” in CI, pay attention: You may be surprised where you find it!

In 2001, Jan Herring and I published the first BOK for a full training program for professionals in the competitive intelligence field. In that article, Jan and I set clear standards for CI training, which underlie the CIP (The first formal certificate in the field, conveyed by the Academy since 1999). That body of knowledge has remained the field’s fundamental standard to date (though several other BOKs have appeared since then by other organizations).

How does our Body of Knowledge Stand the Test of Time?

I recently re-read the principles outlined in our BOK. Yogi Berra (a famous American baseball player, for our international readers) is rumored to have said, “It is hard to predict, especially the future” (it is hard to say if he truly said it as he himself commented “I really didn’t say everything I said.”)  Considering that I can hardly predict my schedule for the next week, I found myself realizing that Jan’s and my vision was astonishingly clairvoyant.

We started by clearly defining the space of CI as distinct from market research, information services, journalism, investigation, security, and other related disciplines. That distinction is as relevant today as it was then. For us, competitive intelligence was a holistic synthesis, a view of the dynamics of all High Impact Players (HIP) that together shape the competitive arena. The end result should be a perspective on the industry/market’s evolution, brought about by its interplay of the competitive players and forces.

This distinction, however, has turned into a sole focus on competitors. For many managers, and some pundits as well, CI is the equivalent of a baby monitor applied to competitors.

The Risk of Limiting CI’s BOK to a Preset Toolkit and Procedures

At the center of that breakthrough BOK was the intelligence cycle: collect, analyze, store and disseminate. This is not rocket science. The simple fact is that intelligence amounts to no more – and no less – than specific input into decisions, describing and predicting competitive dynamics. Yet, some dangers lurk (I love the dramatic tone, lurk…) in letting this cycle become the essence of BOK instead of a loose organizing framework. Managers should keep the following in mind as they seek to advance their skill in CI:

“Our profession does not require a standard skill set or a rigid adherence to specific procedures and practices (such as accountants or lawyers).”

This risk of limiting CI’s BOK to a preset toolkit and procedures reflects the tension between those who believe CI is information, and those who believe that intelligence is insight rather than simply reporting  the facts.  The analytical techniques and frameworks one teaches are simply filters of noise. The ability to see the golden nugget is up to the analyst, not the ‘sieve’ he or she deploys. Individuals bring diverse backgrounds and diverse ability to interpret what “opportunity” or “risk” means. This is why we can (and did!) turn an English major into a CI analyst in two weeks. One never knows where the insight will come from.  The real BOK is knowledge of the industry, not merely a set of prescribed tools, templates and techniques applied in a prescribed, bureaucratic process.

Key Takeaways from the Training Body of Knowledge

So what does BOK for training actually define? Our perspective has been straight forward:

  • Training should be a rational, practical, and connected set of courses; not just a random collection of seminars. Preferably taught by professionals deeply experienced in the subjects they teach.
  • Advanced courses should be derived from and build on core courses.
  • It should strive to provide a relevant experience for students that will prepare them for the real CI world they will operate in.

The last point is crucial today as the nature of CI work inside companies has changed so markedly:

Whatever training you get, the real BOK you need is one that distinguishes the most between intelligence and information. If you want to be an information specialist, the relevant BOK is the Dewey Decimal library catalog system.  Intelligence requires human insight. Our CIPs know this, and if you want a career in CI, you better remember it.