No Broken Bones with Competitive Intelligence

When the web emerged decades ago, few of us would have realized the sheer volume of information that we would digitally create, share, cultivate, and engage with.

I’m going to tell you how five basic problems demand the need for acting smarter and give some pointers for fixing these basic problems by wrapping them into the way you think about competitive intelligence.


I’m going to do it with a sports metaphor

Problem #1 : the noise to signal ratio.

Almost none of us have the ‘digital tuner’ that is required for making sense of the millions of transmissions we are trying to interpret. This is a really big disadvantage for us, as there is a tremendous amount of competitive intelligence information floating around the web.

In the sports world: imagine if referees were not allowed to wear uniforms. Then imagine being a football player in a stadium of cheering fans while bashing your opponent into the mud, all while trying to figure out which one of the voices is the right one to listen to.

This is exactly what is happening online: there are thousands of irrelevant voices, some with credibility, many without any. Your team is trying to figure out how to win the game and has a daily crap-shoot in determining who they should listen to. Many of them simply follow instructions because someone else told them to (with little justification or due-diligence.)

In the real world: we give referees uniforms.

In the digital world: we give our team zilch… nada… nothing.

There are plenty of free systems available for collecting digital information.
(Google Reader, SocialMention)

There are also a few free systems for trying to create personal relevance.
(My6sense, Gist)

These are great tools (I use all of the above), but the tools stop at helping us curate content that is meaningful to us as individuals, as opposed to the business need of identifying content that is meaningful to the success of our business (which includes individuals, teams, projects, timelines, and external consideration.)

The first thing you need to address is giving your team a qualified person to listen to. Identify your information source.

Problem #2 : Sharing information has never been more critical

If someone achieves a touchdown or critically fumbles, the speed at which this success or failure can be documented, understood, improved upon, and relayed to additional team members is one of the great ‘secret ingredients‘ of any successful business.


The cost of failure is extraordinary.
The cost of success means that you paid the cost of failure a hundred times over.

Competitive Intelligence breaks new ground with less failure

If we understand that it takes multiple failures to understand how to be successful, the critical decision that every business leader should be asking themselves is simple “do I want to pay for that failure and the cost of learning, or do I want to learn from the failure someone else paid for?”

I always try to relate this scenario to how we learned as children on the playground.

As small children with little experience, most of us had the experience of “running around with our heads cut off” and we eagerly tried doing new things. A lot of us have scrapes and scars from our childhood that we laughingly point to and say “I’ll never do that again…”

As we grow up we learn to watch our peers. The very fabric of sports is in this education: we watch each other learn, we learn from mistakes we did not commit ourselves. We learn from the broken bones of others.

The second thing you need to do is teach your team how to learn from what everyone else is doing.

Problem #3 : Most professionals choose to break their own bones.

“The broken bones of others” may sound a little grizzly, but it is very apt for the story.

As adults too many of us have learned a horrible lesson in business: that we should personally experience bad things before we care to improve upon them.

Internal teams are often plagued by this, comically saying such things as

  • they can’t hear outside the echo chamber
  • they are “too deep” in the woods

If we think of broken bones in relationship to our business goals:

  • Extreme cost: when you break a bone, you are OUT OF THE GAME. You get benched. Your team suffers a loss as a key component of the strategy is violently removed from the tactical process.
  • Extreme risk: sometimes broken bones heal, but in some cases a broken bone means long term loss, additional unforeseen problems, or even death. All of these things completely derail the success of the team.
  • Recovery is only 99%: healing has a simple truth; it leaves scars. Some of those childhood injuries we all carry around with us have little impacts that we carry for the rest of our lives.

The third thing you need to do is protect your team from injury and encourage preventative care.

Problem #4 : You can have a compound fracture

In real life, compound fractures are bad and really messy.

In the digital business environment compound fractures take the shape of teams of people that each suffer similar problems. Those problems have a cumulative change to the organization that causes an irreparable or catastrophic occurrence.

Compound fractures are a lot tougher to heal because they involve multiple injuries affecting your entire body (muscle, skin, blood loss, micro fractures)  – in the digital world this type of wound is represented by having a department or group of people falter at the same time, such as handling customer service poorly or failing to pass mission critical information in a timely manner.

You can take advantage of compound fractures using competitive intelligence by understanding how to minimize them in your own business, while knowing how to identify when opposing teams have suffered an injury and have created an opportunity.

The forth thing you need to do is utilize a system for sharing team failure without grief so everyone can learn (and injuries minimized)

Problem #5 : where is the coach?

As adults we recognize the advantage of having a good coach and strategist.

A coach looks at the whole game:

  • the field
  • the rules
  • the refs
  • the players
  • the ball

The coach also coordinates risk vs. opportunity. The coach is the CEO of success. It is the job of the coach to not only win each game, but understand what players need to be moved around, encouraged, trained… and protected. A great coach uses competitive intelligence 24/7 to make the team prepared to move quickly and take advantage of competitive opportunities.

The fifth thing you need to do is find someone who knows what they are doing and give them a whistle (AKA – a Coach.)

Tying It All Together: Competitive Intelligence

Do you know any really amazing sports coaches that don’t know EVERYTHING about the game? Competitive coaches follow a strict personal training regiment of improving the things they do and places processes in place to improve the team.

For many coaches this starts by watching the competition.

They read about the other teams, coaches, the players in the game, the weather, the type of turf they are playing on.

In the digital world, CEOs and business leaders have a wide range of tools that can help them research and study some of the same factors:

Study the Team: check out the company on Linkedin, Google, Newswire, Stock Market.

Study the Coach: executive members have bios on Linkedin, Google, Reuters, Executive blogs, Personal Accounts.

Study the Players: “A Team” players are usually easy to identify. Check out corporate events, news releases, Linkedin, Personal Accounts.

Study the Weather: market trends are available using stock trackers, social media mentions, competitive Twitter/Linkedin tracking.

Study the Turf: the digital turf is to-be-determined. Understand what the current turf looks like (websites, communities, micro blogs, social channels, etc) and create a turf that is advantageous to your team.

When you have considered these five points of study and research, you can begin thinking about other types of social media training or employee activation that can bolster the success of your team.

What is your game plan for 2011?

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