Moving CI from Information-Driven Inquiry to Decision-Support Consultancy

This weekend I’ve been working feverishly to recreate my presentation on “Using the Internet to Research Private Companies” for my upcoming SCIP webinar.  I’ve been applying Andrew Abela’s Extreme Presentation method that results in a more coherent “story” and also results in much more attractive and meaningful graphic slides.  I used this approach for my presentation at the Frost & Sullivan Competitive Intelligence MindXChange in January and was very happy with the results.  One of my goals for this presentation is that I want to encourage researchers to move from thinking about requests for specific information and focusing more on the motivating decision that they are trying to inform.  

I have been looking at this concept recently based on some observations I’ve been pulling together about some cognitive biases that occur when competitive intelligence tasking is focused strictly on finding specific information about the market or a competitor versus inquiries and support based on decision support.  While I’m not going to go into this topic in detail in the webinar, I did take some time to capture some quick thoughts on the cognitive biases that I have observed behind information-driven inquiry from CI customers:

  • Over-estimate the level of specificity required
  • Over-estimate the level of precision required/possible
  • Over-value quantitative information
  • Over-estimate the need for “up-to-the-minute” facts over historical trends
  • Value the tactical and devalue strategic
  • Under-estmate ethical considerations, up to and including advocating for industrial espionage under-estimate cost
  • Under-estimate timeframe required for information collection
  • Emphasize adherence to requirements over results
  • Emphasize information over analysis, reject external opinion
  • Over-reliance on individual pieces of data or information, often from unqualified or unverified sources
  • Significant confirmation bias– seek specific information to prove intuitive conclusions or justify decisions already made
  • Over-emphasize the need to move quickly over confirmation of accuracy of information or quality of analysis

Admittedly there is a lot of redundancy and overlap in that list.  As I refine the concept for a new project and really get down to specific cases and examples I am sure the list will be both narrowed and focused.  In a nutshell I relate these cognitive biases back to the tyranny of the urgent over the important.  

Good CI managers and practitioners are going to be challenged always to push back against the information-driven approach to client inquiry.  The sometimes subjective nature of “good” collection and “quality” analysis actually gives me a degree of sympathy for the client who expresses his or her requests for support in terms of access to information.  It is much easier to answer the question “Did I get what I requested?” if I express my request in terms of tangible information.  The decisions that need to be made are often very sensitive in nature, and the desire to compartmentalize those considerations is certainly justifiable.  All of these very understandable preferences lead us to a very sub-optimal destination where practitioner time and effort is wasted to deliver something that doesn’t really address the client’s need.

New CI practices and employees effectively have to earn the permission to be decision support consultants by going above and beyond traditional information-driven requests.  They must also somehow do this without falling into the trap of becoming so good at meeting information-driven expectations that they become typecast as purveyors of information as opposed to the true decision support role that CI really is intended to be.  Key to doing this is to anticipate the decision requirement that drives the information request and do “well enough” on the information but go above and beyond in providing it in a firm form that also provides some quick-win analysis.

There’s a lot more here, and probably more than I can go into in one blog entry.  I’m particularly interested in seeing if any of my fellow CI practitioners and vendors have any thoughts, experiences or cases along these lines of moving a client from information-driven requests to an inquiry framework based on decision support.

5 responses to “Moving CI from Information-Driven Inquiry to Decision-Support Consultancy

  1. Kieran Michael

    Excellent post – it really lays out how the CI profession has often been forced to choose between keeping our clients happy and doing what we know is the right thing for their businesses.

    It’s not fair and perhaps slightly dangerous career-wise, but I think the onus is on CI people to figure out how to slowly and carefully attenuate the business cultures where they work to transform CI into the proactive practice you described above.

  2. August,

    I am not familiar with the “extreme presentation” methodology to which you refer.

    Over the years, I have adopted a different way of presenting:
    1. I prepare a two-page (front and back) summary of my points, ideas, proposals, reason, etc written in full, and complete, sentenances. No bullet points allowed. The two-pager is provided at the beginning of my time: i call it “homework” when I hand it out.
    2. I prepare no more than 3 or 4 PPT slides which are created to stimulate discussion: done so with open ended questions. The slides are presented AFTER everyone has read the two-pager.
    3. The result is that I provide real information to my audience in the two-pager and work out matters of understanding by means of Q&As.

    Not a CI guy: however, sharing value is critical in any forum and have to believe that dumbing down content to accomodate the limitations of PPT is bad for everyone.


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