Category Archives: strategy

The Call is Coming from Inside the House

It’s a horror movie trope that the babysitter, after receiving a series of menacing calls, receives a call from the police or the phone company to warn them, “The call is coming from inside the house!” Many stakeholders respond based on their sense that the Competitive Intelligence (CI) team may be a threatening call coming from inside the house. There are rational, if self-interested, reasons for stakeholders to be skeptical of CI and resistant to it. CI leaders must understand this reality and establish a sense of mutual accountability that grows with relationships, transparency, and time to overcome those reasons.

Stakeholders often sense an inherent threat and disruption from CI. This resistance can be particularly strong for industries and cultures dominated by zero-sum thinking and where people have a strong sense of identify from being “the best.” CI requires them to evaluate their own work in relationship to competitors’ work, and that can be challenging to the stakeholder’s identity and ego. For example, the “W” of a SWOT analysis on your own company, its products, or services may be perceived as implying that leaders made bad decisions or executed poorly. Any such analysis has a benefit of hindsight, and it can be difficult to reflect the decisions, complex systems of execution, and trade-offs that got the company to the current state. Stakeholders in that situation may bristle at seeing “Lack of Feature A” as a Weakness in a SWOT of their own company or product. “We couldn’t invest as much as we would have liked in Feature A because we were contractually obligated to deliver Features B and C for our three largest clients.”

If you expect your analysis may face this resistance, it’s critical to be as objective and transparent as possible. I involve stakeholders that may feel challenged by such assessments in the intelligence process. “The project is the deliverable” is one of my catchphrases. External, independent voices, such as voices of the customer or industry analysts, can go some way to validate difficult messages. In your talk track, notation, or conversations with stakeholders you can clarify your understanding of how the organization got to where it is. Finally, a solid sense of your own fallibility and the limitations of your information and intelligence go a long way to establishing credibility.

We as a professional community often regard ourselves as “smarter than” decision makers who don’t take our advice. However, those decision makers often have to evaluate factors of which we’re not aware or operate under constraints we’ve failed to consider. CI professionals are some of the very smartest people I know, and sometimes our sense of our own intelligence can lead us to be narrow, rational, arrogant, and dismissive. The best CI professionals I’ve seen take those factors into consideration and maintain a sense of humility when delivering their analysis. Often the most resistant or vocally negative stakeholder is feeling the most threatened, and understanding the reasoning for negative reactions (not excusing true toxicity) can go a long way to delivering better intelligence– intelligence that is more likely to be heeded and acted upon.

Running into the Fog

I had the opportunity recently to connect with log-time friends and colleagues Arik and Derek Johnson from Aurora WDC for their new podcast “Running into the Fog.” The Brothers Johnson have done a great job opening up a series of conversations with leaders on deep topics. I’m sure they’ll explore great thoughts with other guests soon, and I’m honored to be their second guest on this podcast.

We had a broad-ranging conversation about competitive intelligence. I came out of the writing-a-book closet to reveal the small business Competitive Intelligence project I’ve got underway. We talked about industry-specific CI, how to identify and develop talent, and the relationship and overlap among tactics, strategy, and execution. We also discussed our experiences making sense in the early days of the Covid 19 pandemic, remember our last time together in person, and the best Star Wars movies and shows.

Please give this podcast a listen if you want to understand some recent, cutting-edge thinking about Competitive Intelligence in modern business. Give the entire series a listen if you want to explore emerging and challenging topics.

Getting started with STEEP analysis

Strategic analysts use STEEP to understand the complex interplay of forces over which they have no control:

  • Reduce the risk of missing important details
  • Rethink issues based on a broad understanding of the big picture
  • Identify the factors that explain events
  • Get beyond normative analysis and assumptions
  • Make sense of the overwhelming amount of information and data
  • Identify trends, uncertainties, and inflection points that will define the future

STEEP is an acronym and reflects the five meta-factors that define any situation:

S = Society
T = Technology
E = Economy
E = Environment
P = Politics

STEEP in interchangeable with other outside-in analytical models such as PESTLE (prevalent in the UK and takes a more detailed view of Law) and STEMPLE (prevalent among national security and military intelligence professionals and evaluates Military factors in detail). Analysts can adapt STEEP to add factors for more granular detail or demote factors that may not be relevant in a situation.

I will dive into STEEP in future posts:

  • Specifics of each factor
  • Standards of source reliability and data credibility
  • STEEP as a foundation for advanced analysis and problem-solving
  • Applying STEEP to current events and challenges analysts are dealing with today such as the Covid-19 pandemic


Making Sense of a Fast-Moving World Awash in Information with STEEP Analysis