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How to Address Competitive Intelligence Ambiguity

Conducting competitive intelligence is similar to dating. It would be much easier if you had clear, unambiguous signals to work with. Unfortunately, reality isn’t so clear-cut. People intentionally — and sometimes unconsciously — lie and mislead. Opportunities and threats come and go. And the complexity of a situation can quickly become overwhelming.

In the midst of ambiguity, CI professionals are still expected to dig up dependable information that’s highly predictive. Fortunately, by developing an awareness of the sources of ambiguity, you can begin to improve your foresight and your track record for predicting future outcomes.

As you step up to the challenge, consider the three primary sources of ambiguity:

  • Complexity

  • Velocity

  • Blind spots

When most organizations fail at CI, they do so because the organization’s leadership and planners (as well as CI personnel) haven’t accounted for the complexity of a situation and/or the velocity of change.

Complexity in competitive intelligence

When conducting CI, you’re aiming at a moving target. To have any hope of hitting it, you need to aim in front of it. That’s where complexity comes into play. Think of complexity as the number of moving parts in any given situation you’re researching — the issues, forces, and variables that come into play.

If you’re lucky, you’re dealing with only one or two issues, forces, or variables, and your job’s pretty easy. More often than not, that’s how a typical CI assignment starts out, but it rarely remains that easy. Soon you discover that you’re now dealing not only with five major competitors but also with dozens more that are popping up in developing countries.

In some cases, the governments of those countries are instituting policies that create favorable conditions for their companies to compete in the global marketplace. To make matters worse, emerging technologies that you thought wouldn’t be a threat for several years are nipping at your heels and the rate of new product introduction is likely to double in the next 24 months.

The more moving parts you need to account for, the greater the complexity and the more challenging it is to explain what’s going on, predict what’s about to take place, and plan an effective response. Figuring out how to deal with multiple factors, changing velocity, and increasing levels of uncertainty are critically important if you’re going to be successful in developing meaningful intelligence.

As the level of complexity rises, the level of predictability tends to drop. In other words, as the number of moving parts increases, your ability to do solid predictive modeling with your CI data is compromised. Try your best to stay on top of changes in your industry and the markets in which you compete. Otherwise, the changes are likely to become overwhelming when it’s too late to respond effectively.

Velocity in competitive intelligence

Velocity (or diffusion) refers to how fast a change occurs. How soon will competitors in your industry adopt a new technology or approach? How long will consumers be using smartphones and iPhones before a new gadget arrives on the scene to replace it? When will brick-and-mortar retailers be relegated to the history books?

Whatever changes your industry or organization faces, you need to have a somewhat reliable timeline in place so you can plan for changes that are destined to occur. The importance of accommodating for the velocity of change can’t be overstated.

If a company anticipates that a new competitive product will arrive in four years but consumers adopt it in just two years, the outcome can be disastrous. An inability to anticipate such changes often leads to an extended period of diminished earnings, if not an outright crisis.

How to maximize your instincts on ambiguity in competitive intelligence analysis

Appreciating just how capable you are in dealing with large volumes of information, when most if not all of that information is fuzzy, is vitally important. The human mind is still the most sophisticated processing entity around. It has the ability to make sense out of massive amounts of information.

The only question is whether or not you’re willing to listen to what your mind and the continual flow of intel are telling you.

Here’s a simple set of steps to help you maximize and trust your innate abilities:

  1. Allow your mind to process or think about all the information you’ve dug up.

  2. Allow that processing to continue by asking the “What does this mean?” question as you observe different sets of data.

  3. Be especially observant as you begin to develop intuitive indicators about what the information might mean.

  4. Complete the process by crystallizing those intuitive indicators into a conclusion.

If you ever have a “funny feeling inside” regarding a particular situation, more often than not, you’ll come to realize that your intuition was correct.

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