2 + 2 = 10

In olden times (before the Web), finding information was difficult.  If you wanted a phone number in another city/state, you used your phone book to find the area code and then called 411.  Electronic databases that you called via modem were available but required specialized search training.  These wagon train days also led to a certain creativity when doing competitive intelligence research.  You frequently had to back into the information you needed.  If you were clever enough, you could maximize those resources and make 2 + 2 = 10.

My Top Three Favorite Pre-Web CI Research Projects are (in random order):

1.  Chicken Eggs.  Also in olden times, influenza vaccines were made from chicken eggs.  Vaccines can be made in other ways now, including in caterpillars.  Back then to determine annual vaccine production, we would call chicken farmers in Pennsylvania to find out the vaccine egg crop yield. 

2.  Job Ads.  Job ads are a gold mine of information.  Not so much nowadays, but back then, companies would list their technologies, their reporting structure, and sometimes even their strategic plans (“we need a sales manager for Europe because we are launching our new product this year”).  I created organization charts, analyzed the technical prowess, and discerned product development plans from job ads.

3.  Patent Trees.  Patents are a great source of information:  employee names, corporate research interests, corporate locations, partnerships, etc.  By tracing patent families, you can see where companies are investing their research dollars.  You can also see how technology has evolved.  While creating a natural language software patent tree, I discovered that the origin of natural language software is actually spell checking software.  As I recall, three IBM patents from the early 70s form the basis of the research into natural language software. 

Connecting the dots between research results and methodologies can be circuitous and entertaining.

I Will Find You

Received a call today from one of my competitive intelligence colleagues.  We’ve worked in CI for almost 15 years – before the invasion of the military intelligence people.  A disgruntled lot who are cranky that they are no longer allowed to kill.  They have really sucked the fun out of corporate spying. 

Dave & I wistfully recalled all the ways we had found people to interview over the years.  A timeline of various technologies that we used creatively for our own gain.  As the web began in the early 90s, some of were using remants of the old Arpanet/Darpanet (can’t remember the proper term any more).  Newsgroups laid the groundwork for today’s social networks.  People joined newsgroups to share technical knowledge or enjoy hobbies.  I trolled them for contacts.

After the web started becoming popular in the mid-90s, I enjoyed how the IT people would post all types of inappropriate company documents that could be used for CI purposes:  factory schematics, business plans, resumes, technology profiles.  I like IT people, but they really should not be allowed to make any decisions about content.  Their lack of business acumen is a huge liability. 

Then regular folk began creating their own websites, posting all types of personal and professional information that made my job easier.  Alas, about this time, the CI community decided to publicize itself more.  An attempt to establish itself alongside the upper tier management consulting firms.  It didn’t really work, but it did make the jobs of the rank & file CI people more difficult — as companies became aware of how their information could be analyzed for CI purposes.  Corporate counter-intelligence began.  Along with the infiltration of the ex-military intelligence guys.   

With the prolilferation of blogs and corporate social networking sites, one might think finding people has become easy again.  In some ways, yes.  In other ways, no.  Searching the content is still difficult.  No one search engine can possibly cover the web, blogosphere, and invisible web effectively. 

That’s OK.  I’m up for the challenge.  And I can still use job postings, magazine articles, and annual reports to create org charts.  At the end of the day, like the Mounties, I get my man/woman.

Animal Kingdom

You don’t have to be a lion tamer to manage people, but sometimes it helps.  Learning how to train animals can give you an advantage in training/managing people.  To avoid confusing animals, some trainers suggest distinguishing between the No and Wrong commands.  Wrong means that you are doing something incorrectly and need to make an adjustment.  No means that you are doing something naughty and need to stop immediately.  Wrong is a helpful, non-judgemental command, while No implies punishment or misbehavior.  Distinguishing between the two words really does help in dealing with people and animals.

Animals have helped leaders throughout history.  Animals have become symbols of power and victory.  During and after the time of Alexandar the Great, he who controlled the most battle ready elephants was considered the strongest leader.  Marina Belozerskaya explores this topic in her book:  The Medici Giraffe.  From Rome to Greece to Egypt to Mexico to France to the United States, Belozerskaya shows how leaders used animals to show strength and power.  Runaway elephants helped derail Pompey’s political career, while a giraffe secured papal influence for Lorenzo de’ Medici. 

Some of the stories are familiar.  Belozerskaya interpretes the animal’s contribution and details the living conditions for both the animal and the people of the time.  She exposes how great leaders can see opportunities for seizing or securing power in the most unlikely of places.  Her prose is crisp and descriptive. 

A pleasure to read, The Medici Giraffe unites the majesty of the animal kingdom and the quest for power in the human kingdom to illuminate a previously little explored path to political power.