Article by Ben Gilad

I just delivered our first “Foundation of a CI Analyst” webishop in April. Boy, it was fun. At least I had fun. I am never sure, even after 30 years, if my “students” have as much fun as I do.

I consider myself very lucky in one respect: not only do I love what I do, but I know some customers gain some value from some me. I would love to say I earned their respect with hard work, but I never worked hard in my entire life, except a week at the end of May 1982 and I don’t even remember why, but I remember the determination not to repeat that horror.

Instead, my assumption is that if you provide people with what helps them, they respect that.

Oh, well, if only it was that simple.  

The librarian in our midst

I didn’t know what to expect from this first run of our Foundation. It was deliberately not the typical “everything you need to know about competitive intelligence.” I dubbed it an appetizer (1.5 hour me talking, 1.5 hours the participants talking) to give managers a taste of what it means to be a real analyst as contrasted with archivist, researcher, data monger or information practitioner of all kinds.

Then one of the participants was a librarian. I don’t usually get librarians in my workshops. We don’t target librarians in the marketing we don’t do. It’s a parallel universe and I don’t speak Klingon. Librarians are by design archivists – store and retrieve information on demand – and are not supposed to have an opinion on the demand or the information.

And then you run into a librarian who is a natural intelligence analyst, and have an opinion on the information, and you have to ask: Can a leopard change its spots? (a biblical reference, Jeremiah 13).

Of course it can; if the Kardashians can claim no enhancements, a Leopard can turn into a kitten with help from even less photoshop. That’s not an issue at all.

The problem is, would the bosses see him/her as a kitten?

We have trained managers of all persuasions. Their background didn’t matter one iota– instead, the curiosity and non-liner thinking did. Grasping the big picture has little to do with rank, title, experience or educational background. Some of the most strategic thinkers I’ve taught had degrees in French Literature or Divinity Studies. Some of the least strategic minds I’ve met had a title of SVP.  

Some of the most strategic thinkers I’ve taught had degrees in French Literature or Divinity Studies. Some of the least strategic minds I’ve met had a title of SVP.

But the real issue is pigeonholing. And it affects businesses adversely in many ways.

The damage of pigeonholing

Pigeonholing refers to the phenomenon of assessing someone’s value according to their task/function, not their contribution. Corporate Pigeonholing is one bias not often discussed when we talk about popular cognitive biases such as framing or anchoring. We all pigeonhole almost instinctively. If someone is not an engineer in a high-tech environment, or not a scientist in Pharma or not into computer science in a software company, his or her perspective is automatically discounted. Or more accurately- pigeonholed to the area that person is assigned. “You may understand marketing, but this is technical”. Or, “You may be good at information searches, but this is business.”

To a degree, this is justified. There are technical areas (from accounting to legal to operations) where expertise is a prerequisite for meaningful contribution. People who believe data and intelligence are the same often lack basic understanding of either. But that is absolutely not the case in one critical area: Strategy.

To a degree, information practitioners contribute to their own pigeonholing by hiding behind sending facts and doing background “research.” They shouldn’t be surprised if later no one takes their attempts at business insight seriously. Try to quickly say three times: Stick fetchers should stick to stick fetching.

Information practitioners contribute to their own pigeonholing by hiding behind sending facts and doing background “research.”

But when a librarian is smarter than those requesting the information, not listening to her can be a big mistake.

So, what do you do when you are pigeonholed against your will?

What to do if you are pigeonholed?

I don’t know. How’s that for an honest answer.

In some industries it’s a lost cause. Many Law firm partners, for example, treat anyone who is not a lawyer as service provider, not an equal partner to lofty strategic discussions (assuming law firms have strategy, a huge assumption). That includes their own marketing people.

When a librarian is smarter than those requesting the information, not listening to them can be a big mistake.

Investment bankers treat back office as, well, backward office. A CEO will likely treat a stick fetcher as a stick fetcher even if she brought him a whole tree.

The cultural change of pigeonholing among consulting, legal and financial firms must be way more radical to allow diversity of perspectives. Good luck waiting for that to happen. They didn’t spend upward of 200K on their fancy Ivy League degrees to listen to a librarian.

Other industries (and companies) may allow limited lateral moves across departments, but if you truly “change your spots”, you’d lose the perks of seniority and have to start from the bottom. It’s like becoming an intern all over again and that is only fun when you are 19. If you have the determination to change career wholesale, you might be better off joining the dwindling ranks of your local police force instead. Your community needs you.

It’s funny that people think one needs an MBA to understand business. I have an MBA and its only value was that it allowed me to go for a Ph.D. without having to take the GRE. I could never complete the standardized tests’ analogies such as “Economics to progressives is like Chinese to… (a. Australians b. Zoologists c. Circus acrobats and d. What??”)

A message of hope?

I wish to offer a message of hope to all librarians out there because I like to see 30,000 librarians come to us to become analysts. But I also refuse to hype. I’ve met a few librarians by now and they all shared amazing passion for their profession. If you love being a librarian, forget pigeonholing, and just be happy. Make a difference in small ways. Earn a CIP™ for your own intellectual growth not for the sake of management elusive respect. You never know when a small difference turns into a satisfying “I told you so!”. If you ask me, this is the best way to derive satisfaction from colleagues NOT listening to you. Alas, it may also be a bitter-sweet victory as you might need to find another company. But trade-offs are part of life.   

I am passionate about teaching, so long ago I forewent being a highly paid senior corporate executive.  I probably would have gotten offers from … oh, who am I kidding? Five minutes in a Fortune 500’s boardroom and I’d be asked to leave via the non-openable window. I probably would have also said F.. a few times on my way down.  

I couldn’t even be a librarian in Corporate because I would have suggested to a marketing zombie asking for more data to look for a job in a mining company. So, if you are a librarian with more brains than your customers, join us. We will give you an outlet for your frustration.

Isn’t it what a good therapy session is all about?

Our webishops are cheap, quick and the best way to decide if becoming an analyst can change your career path, help you lose weight, and otherwise just be way shorter and cheaper relief than psychoanalysis. We are going to offer more of them following the (for me) unexpected success of this first one. If you want to be informed, let know. We take requests for preferred dates. I personally prefer Sunday at 5AM but Lynne said no way.  She crosses over from my COO to my boss easily.