In my upcoming book, Getting
Innovation Right
, I detail seven activities that give an edge to
leaders who want to succeed in the market (who doesn’t?!). One of them
is gathering business intelligence, a service I have provided to
executive clients since 2000.

ken garrisonA good friend of mine, Ken Garrison, is the former CEO
of Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (, a global
nonprofit organization serving professionals in the field of
competitive intelligence. His first-hand experience with dozens of
industry professionals gives him insight into the need to use an
external provider to gather effective, unbiased business intelligence.

I interviewed him recently for my upcoming book. Here is some of what
he said:

A broad definition of competitive
intelligence is the action of defining, gathering, analyzing, and
distributing intelligence about products, customers, competitors and
any aspect of the environment needed to support executives and managers
in making strategic decisions.

analysis looks at the market, its variables, adjacent markets,
products, customers, and competitors, all so you can create a
competitive edge. This is done over time so you can predict where
trends may go as best you possibly can, and evaluate your ability to
respond effectively.

In a changing
world, leaders must realize that they are always a single event away
from survival – they need to know what is on the horizon to stay
relevant, competitive, and to win. Competitive intelligence provides
information so you can answer questions like, “How do I make
adjustments so I get my share of revenue growth, attractive markets, or
expand my base?”

Many leaders do not
know there are professionals who understand this, do it, and provide
this kind of an edge. It is legal, ethical, and a professional

If you are going to
create a world-class competitive intelligence program you have to have
three things:

1-A strong personal understanding of what
competitive intelligence is and how you can use it for business
advantage. This understanding must reside in your chair. You are the
CEO. If you do not get it, it will fail. When you understand it and own
it, it becomes an extremely powerful tool.

2-A line item in
the budget that you commit to. Do not bury it in marketing, research,
development, or communications. Competitive intelligence makes a unique
contribution. If you put it in one of those buckets, two things will
happen: it will be twisted by the office that runs it – that should
instead be you, at the top – and it will be one of the first things cut
when the office you put it in is forced to make tough decisions.
Cutting competitive intelligence when times are rough is like saying we
don’t need to look out the front windshield of a car anymore when you
are driving through a storm. That is when you most need to understand
the trends and market.

3-You need a
consistent presentation of results so you can see the work. You must
have a way of disseminating your information. Your audience
legitimately has the expectation that they are going to get something

As someone who
surveys the entire field I see a significant shift when leaders begin
taking competitive intelligence seriously. They realize an ad hoc
effort will only get them so far. When a CEO chooses to do this in a
modulated way over a period of time so they have a consistent set of
facts and information flowing in, they achieve a new level of
performance simply because they have better quality information, that
is data across time.

I find it surprising that so many leaders have
little or no
intelligence efforts in-house, let alone the ability to exploit this
resource. It’s a stark absence. They cannot act on their information,
because they have none or what they have is haphazard, built upon
conversation and hunches only. It is a sad state considering that much
of this valuable input is readily available for a negligible cost.

Typical intelligence efforts explore three inter-related areas.
1. Customers
2. Market Conditions
3. Organizational Capabilities

By combining information from all three, you assemble an explanation of
how an organization is doing along with potential challenges and
opportunities, and get a good idea of what needs to be done so it can
handle the challenges well and take advantage of the opportunities.

Consider dedicating resources to competitive intelligence. Leaders who
do put themselves ahead of the competition. The vast majority of
executives do not practice this with any discipline or intensity. Yet
it is the awareness that springs from solid intelligence that make the
difference between those who are haphazardly shooting in the dark with
good ideas and those who consistently and systematically uncover
potential, capitalize on opportunity, and generate traction in the

getting change right bookI was verygetting innovation right book fortunate
to have my first book become a Washington Post bestseller for two
weeks, meaning it was one of the top 10 books purchased in DC at that
time. That was Getting
Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out
. You can order it from here.

In 2013 my next book, Getting Innovation
Right: How Leaders Create Inflection Points that Drive Success in the
will be released. In the months ahead I will
publish excerpts like the Interview with Ken above.

If you book conferences, contact me for a special deal in 2013 – I will
be offering over 50% of my speaker’s fee toward copies of the book for
your audience. All arrangements to take place through my
representative, Tom
Neilssen, at