One of the Competitive Intelligence greats, Prof Ben Gilad, has written an article about what it takes to be a CI professional. It was published on LinkedIn on 1 March 2023 and hereby shared with full acknowledgement and reference. Enjoy!

“Tomorrow, the first cohort of 2023 begins its CIP™-I program with the Academy. Despite budget cuts and recession fears, or maybe because of recession fears, their companies sent them to us to begin their journey toward becoming competition analysts.

Most CI professionals get promoted into the role from marketing, product, or market research roles, and they often have little foreknowledge of the nature of the job, except that it has something to do with “searching for competitor information.” It doesn’t. Searching and aggregating and then reporting data and information is not a career. It doesn’t have much of a future.

In the next week or so, we are going to change these managers’ ideas of what competitive intelligence is all about and how they can have an impact. For some, we will change the course of their careers.

Now more than ever?

The importance of the CI jobs was brought to the limelight with the current market correction of overoptimistic high-tech investments, followed by massive layoffs. Simply put, the quintessential characteristic of CI is to be cynical. That’s not a bad thing at all if you understand what Cynic actually means. The original cynics in ancient Greece – Think the fascinating philosopher Diogenes – looked for what was real behind the façade of hype. CHAT and platforms are not cynical, and never will be. They are not even skeptical. They are mostly “dumb” (i.e. “neutral”).

CI and CCyO

By default, competitive intelligence is cynical. While research (or reporting) is about reality: “this is what’s happening out there right now”, intelligence is always about what’s next. To predict what is next one needs to ask why something is happening. Therefore, intelligence always deals with motivation, intention, assumptions, and other subtle, hidden explanatory variables. And when it comes to these, the cynic looks under the hood. Broadly speaking as cynics, we look to distinguish between real and fake. So, we are officially Chief Cynic Officers (CCyO).

“Most people, [Diogenes] would say, are so nearly mad that a finger makes all the difference. For, if you go along with your middle finger stretched out, someone will think you mad, but, if it’s the little finger, he will not think so.” A cynic can be the only reasonable person in a company drunk on over-optimistic forecasts, unreasonable expectations, and hype.

Cynical and skeptical go into a bar – in Mountain View, of course A cynical perspective – exposing fake – is useful in deciphering corporate announcements. Google announced recently that it will bring Waze under its GEO Services division. In that announcement, Google denied that Waze will lose its independence, instead claiming “By bringing the Waze team into Geo’s portfolio of real-world mapping products…the teams will benefit from further increased technical collaboration.

” Eh? Who will benefit? Waze!? As Noam Bardin, the founder of Waze, described in 2021 as he was departing Google, the companies’ cultures were so different, Google added nothing to Waze’s success. It only hindered its development with sushi lunch menus.

When Google “integrated” Stadia- its cloud gaming service- it said Stadia “is not shutting down” two months before announcing Stadia would be shutting down. My skeptical perspective says Waze will go the same way. My cynical self says, it was doomed from the beginning, there was nothing “real” (i.e., strategic) about it. There was no real reason for Google to buy it (at $1.1B, pocket change for Google) except to prevent Facebook from doing so. Waze is not about technology as much as deep engagement with a loyal customer base- and Google is anything but. Skeptical and cynical go together in Silicon Valley.

Potential culture clash is essential to CI analysis

In CI, cultural elements play a prominent role. Executives, alas, are skeptical about anything which is not in an Excel sheet. But as a cynic, I know numbers can hide reality. Analyzing partners and acquisitions must unmask potential culture clashes but that hardly ever happens. As a cynic, I know numbers can hide reality. I bet you Mercedes wishes it was more skeptical and a bit more cynical about Rivian, the electric truck venture. On December 2022, Mercedes pulled out of a JV with Rivian, stating “priorities differences.” Just a year ago, a Motley Fool article described Rivian, the most hyped-up IPO of the 21st century and the maker of electric vans and trucks as a promising stock. Yet the JV was doomed from the beginning, as insiders describe Rivian frequently changing its mind about product design, which drove Mercedes, a typical German engineering culture, crazy. Cultural clash of this sort is not uncommon. Yet number crunchers ignore it. On Dec 12, 2022, Rivian, its stock price now down 90%, failed to deliver even a small percentage of the expected production, and Amazon- its biggest investor- signed a deal for a fleet of trucks with Stellantis (formerly Fiat and PSA, as old-fashioned car companies as they come). Motley Fool did note that “In addition to execution risks, challenges from competition also need to be considered.” Financial analysts have to include these qualifying statements, but many don’t understand a lot about the effect of competitive pressures on decisions beyond these lip service. They just drool at the “addressable market.” Mercedes needed a Chief Cynic Officer (körperschaftlichchefzynikerofiziernussknacker as the locals will call it), but it got excel sheet warriors instead.

Alternative perspective

Being cynical is not about being negative or pessimistic, it’s about what’s real. In CI, understanding true assumptions underlying behavior is paramount in predicting the future of competition. Be a proud cynic. Don’t be afraid to admit it (unless you work for Disney++.) When this new cohort is unleashed on the world, their companies will get a whole new perspective on CI and on competing.

Ben Gilad Founder, Academy of Competitive Intelligence

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