By Dr. Ben Gilad, ACI Faculty

Competition is the Darwinian principle underlying the vast majority of human activities. We all compete for resources (money, food, shelter, etc.), position and status (work and careers), power over other peoples’ decisions (politicians), and even mates. Human existence is steeped in competition, the result of evolutionary pressures over millions of years.

And competing effectively always starts with a competitive intelligence perspective which is the framework of identifying opportunities and threats.

Some people, including experts, confuse ‘intelligence’ with secrets, with facts and information, or with data. Maybe because they don’t understand what it means. So here is an example that may clarify the concept of “intelligence perspective.”

Applying Targeted Search to Getting a Date

Let’s say you go on a dating site (the capitalistic result of the biological imperative of competition for mates), and scan profiles. A woman catches your attention for whatever reason. Yes, OK, she looks hot (again, biological imperative in action, apologies to all the feminist readers who object to nature).

Fact 1: You are now in competition with every male on that site who is trying to get her attention.

So what do you do? If you are smart, you conduct a targeted search for clues to what makes her tick. Notice that you start by framing the question, the search, as: things that will help you get her attention against a lot of others trying to get her attention (the competition). Maybe you read her Facebook posts or analyze every word in her profile (she likes walks on the beach, surprise!). You try and ascertain the clichés your competitors spew in her direction. You read advice columns with heading such as: What girls hate in dating sites. If you are skillful at seeing an opening – an opportunity to impress- that others don’t, your message will get through. In other words, your strategy to get her attention will be informed by the intelligence perspective you developed.

Fact 2: if your strategy (to get this girl) is not informed by the intelligence (= identified opportunity to impress her), you will be one of the 9999 messages she discards. Loser!

Dating and Coca Cola’s Targeted Search

This straight-forward process I described above is exactly the same process used by Coca Cola as it competes in the market for soda drinkers. It gathers information (conducts a targeted search) on what consumers like (and dislike), it keeps tab on what other brands (carbonated beverages) are offering and at what cost and at what price and at what channels, and its marketing geniuses try hard to stay different in consumers’ minds.

The result is also very similar: Only some succeed. Out of the 999 on-line dating messages that said “Hi, you are so hot!” Yours that said, “I have a production company and we are casting the next movie and you are a perfect match for the role of Anna Karenina” survived. You have a date tomorrow night. Out of the dozens of flavors and products Coca Cola makes, only a few succeed and go on to be profitable for the beverage giant.

And like Coca Cola you may sometimes discover at the end, that what you got was not what you hoped for (water and teas are soda’s greatest competitors, not other sodas), and the hot looking woman turns out to be as interesting as MSNBC. You would then have a strategic choice to make: Lower your standards or search for the next opportunity to mate. Coca Cola, for one, bought Dasani, a water bottle company, and Honest Tea, a healthy tea company, realizing growth in sodas is done.

Data, Information and Intelligence

What underlies this Darwinian process is the incessant search for opportunities, and for the prudent ones among us, it is combined with alertness to emerging risks. And that is what the competitive intelligence perspective is all about.

Some people believe in collecting every bit of information in the hope of finding the critical pieces that reveal an opportunity. The more efficient (and effective) ones zoom in on the significant information (i.e., intelligence) quickly and leave the noise to the less competitive people (or companies). We all spend our waking hours sifting through noise. Some of us are good at it. Some of us are not. Some of us accept noise as a substitute for an intelligent perspective. There is a reason why the word intelligence and intelligent come from the same root.

Strategic intelligence (some call it market intelligence or competitive intelligence) is a perspective in the service of strategy. It is not a random collection of everything around us. It is a filter that lets us get the girl.

To better prepare yourself to get the girl, or your company to take advantage of the opportunities that matter, these ACI courses will get you started: