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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
This book is a gem. It is a rare book that I would recommend equally to senior executives and students thinking about a career path, but this is such a book. I agreed to review this book for the publisher and received a free copy. I've known the author since the early 1990's when the U.S. Government first tried to learn how to do commercial intelligence, calling it Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). They still don't get it, for the same reason most executives don't get it: arrogance, ignorance, and a complacency that comes from having too much money and not enough accountability.

Before laying down my notes, let me first place this book squarely in the top twelve books in English. This is the one I would recommend to anyone as a starter, followed by:
Ben Gilad, Blindspots (Infonortics, UK), order online from them directly
Early Warning: Using Competitive Intelligence to Anticipate Market Shifts, Control Risk, and Create Powerful Strategies
Measuring the Effectiveness of Competitive Intelligence: Assessing & Communicating CI's Value to Your Organization
Super Searchers Do Business
Super Searchers on Competitive Intelligence: The Online and Offline Secrets of Top CI Researchers (Super Searchers series)
Business and Competitive Analysis: Effective Application of New and Classic Methods
Building & Running a Successful Research Business: A Guide for the Independent Information Professional
The New Competitor Intelligence: The Complete Resource for Finding, Analyzing, and Using Information about Your Competitors
Keeping Abreast of Science and Technology: Technical Intelligence for Business
The New Craft of Intelligence: Personal, Public, & Political--Citizen's Action Handbook for Fighting Terrorism, Genocide, Disease, Toxic Bombs, & Corruption
Information Operations: All Information, All Languages, All the Time

The last are mine, as with all my books free online at Phi Beta Iota, the Public Intelligence Blog. There are MANY books in this field, some listed at the back of this book. For me it boils down to culture, structure, sources, and process. CULTURE: from the CEO to the Chief Content Officer or Chief Knowledge Officer, do the bottom-line bosses understand that Competitive Intelligence is worth at least 20% of their gross in new revenue or avoidance of lost revenue? STRUCTURE: Is there at least a six person CI shop with a direct report relationship to the CEO or no less than one down from the CEO? SOURCES: Does the CI staff have a budget for serious research including out-sourcing of special studies and integration of appropriate processing power? PROCESS: Is the CI staff integrated into both the day to day decision-making as well as the strategic forward thinking? Nothing is dumber than "this is what we've decided to do, tell us about the path."

Now my notes on this book, which fully satisfies as an overview of the above and as an introduction to the broader literature.

1. External matters. It has been a long time in coming, but both the commercial intelligence industry (which is emergent from the scattered competitive intelligence industry) and the key customers including law firms are starting to realize that the customer's future needs, unstated needs, and the totality of the external environment are vastly more vital than internal data mining also badly known as Business Intelligence. One shipping executive told me they learned the hard way that in one particular African country with a strong textile industry, the regulatory and corruption context was so bad that the fashion cycle was OVER before they could get the finished goods out of the country. Never assume anything and forget the past.

2. Truth matters. The author is very polite on this point, one that the U.S. Government at the political and senior executive level still does not appreciate. I am totally enchanted by the early quote from the chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, "When things are not going well, until you get the truth out on the table, no matter how ugly, you are not in a position to deal with it." That one quote made this book worthwhile for me.

3. Executive short-falls. I like to quote Ben Gilad, who along with this author and Jan Herring and Dick Klavans and Babette Bensoussan are among my most respected colleagues: writing in BLINDSPOTS: replacing myths, beliefs, and assumptions with market realities (Infonortics UK 1996): "Top managers' information is invariably either biased, subjecive, filtered or late." Also from Gilad: "Using intelligence correctly requires a fundamental change in the way top executives make decisions." The author does a devastatingly elegant job of putting executive naivete in its place early on, the same section serving as a "lay of the land" for any aspiring commercial intelligence practitioner.

4. Definitions and Scope. The middle of the book is great on definitions and strong in comparing market research with competitive intelligence on multiple levels. In Figure 3.1 on Page 38 th author lists the following as being essential elements of any comprehensive endeavor (I put them in alpha order) Culture; Customers; Demographics; Distributors; Economy; Government and Industry Regulations; Other Industries; Prospects; Substitutes; Suppliers; Technology; AND Competitors. I will never forget the head of the French steel industry lamenting in 1993 that after spending a ton of money on studying all other national steel industries, they got cut off at the knees because they failed to realize plastic would be a substitute for automobile parts including underside parts.

5. Data, Information, and Intelligence. The author does a very fine job, the best I have seen by anyone else, distinguishing among data (pieces), information (a generic collage) and intelligence (actionable answers for specific executives making specific decisions). I like the general discussion of know versus don't know, today versus tomorrow, and the integration of assumptions (question them), changes (recognize them), and strategies (have at least one). I especially like the author's emphasis on encouraging dissent and re-evaluating soup to nuts every single year.

6. Creating or Employing a CI Capability. This portion of the book is intended to be an overview and it does a fine job there. The author also reviews sources and puts Google in its place, but fails to mention that advanced search (not what Google offers, but understanding its actual code language and using it to create subsets within subsets) offsets some of Google's shortfalls. The author properly notes that "it's not about software," and provides proper emphasis on the human aspect of intelligence, something I address in comprehensive manner with my Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Trilogy at the Public Intelligence Blog.

7. Applications. Chapter 7 details more than a dozen applications of CI, with over 70 examples of how and when to use CI.

8. Myths and Advantages. The book ends with a chapter on the 13 myths of CI followed by another on the 15 advantages of CI, and as tempted as I am to list them here, I will simply note that they also make the book worthy of purchase in and of themselves.

This book has been endorsed by Cyndi Allgaier, Babette Bensousson, and Jan Herring, whom I know to be among the top dozen English-language practitioners, and while I am focused more on creating a World Brain with embedded EarthGame that brings all eight tribes of intelligence together (Academic, Civil Society, Commercial, Government, Law Enforcement, Media, Military, and Non-Governmental), I believe this book to be the new leader, the new best in class offering for anyone thinking about "getting a grip" on reality so as to survive.

The author has done all of us a great service in producing something that is easy to read, up to date, and a great starting point for anyone from the CEO of Exxon (poor fellow) to a student at any community college wondering about being a Chief Sustainability Officer versus being a Chief Knowledge Officer--NEWS FLASH: you cannot be one without the other, do both.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2009
There are a number of books on the subject of what is called "competitive intelligence" that appear to offer the same sort of advice to commercial enterprises. Perhaps all are equally good. This book however seems to have some particularly important insights that are applicable both to the private and public sectors of intelligence production.

Sharp makes a vitally important distinction between data, information, and intelligence. Now of course it can be argued that intelligence is simply processed information and Sharp would probably not disagree with this statement. She would point out that the transformation of information into intelligence normally involves sophisticated research and analysis as well as considerable commitment on the part of the analyst. Competitive Intelligence (CI) is very much a holistic approach to intelligence gathering and production. Properly developed CI can provide an outline guide for risk mitigation, research and development, production cycles and marketing strategy. Sharp makes a particularly telling point on the role of information systems in the production of CI: she argues that while information systems can be repositories and organizers of data and information relevant to any enterprise, it takes human cognition to transform this into CI. Sharp correctly recognizes that for the foreseeable future computer processing cannot yet simulate all human cognitive processes so human analysis is still a necessary part of producing CI.

Sharp appears to have developed an effective and easy to understand technique to create a viable CI program in any enterprise. Along the way she has developed some good insights that are equally applicable to the world of secret intelligence. This is a book that provides a very clear and useful explanation of CI and how to establish an effective CI program.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2010
Competitive Intelligence Advantage provides a managerial overview of the WHY behind competitive intelligence. Rather than getting mired in the details of processes and systems, Seena explains the value of CI for strategy and planning.

Having taught executives on this topic for many years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I have found that many people mistake the gathering of price lists and product comparisons of direct competitors as "competitive intelligence." But as this book points out, there's much more.

Seena consistently reinforces the difference between competiTOR intelligence and competiTIVE intelligence, describing the latter as the "knowledge and foreknowledge about the entire business environment that results in action." This definition implies the importance of context (to move from data to information to intelligence) and action (to move from knowing to doing).

While the book doesn't provide a compendium of tools and techniques, it DOES emphasize a mindset that helps readers ask the right questions, challenge/validate assumptions and synthesize seemingly disparate data pieces to help make better business decisions.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
For a small business person who does his or her own business research, Chapter 9 alone makes this book worthwhile. Identifying and evaluating several dozen sources of information provides a ticket to being able to find critical information. I also liked the myth-busting chapter because from puncturing the notion that everything worth knowing can be found using Google to the false belief that you can't research private companies. Using this book, a small business person can get an advantage in making critical choices and decisions.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2010
While this book offers a compelling case for CI for the reluctant executive, it is NOT a good introduction to the methods and resources needed to actually conduct CI. Unfortunately the product description says the book will, among other things, tell you "how to find the most useful information and turn it into actual intelligence". Only one chapter is devoted to this and there is not one description of an analysis methodology (e.g. SWOT analysis, PEST analysis, Porter's 5 forces, etc.). I wish the product description would have included this telling excerpt from the book, "The purpose of this book is to hammer home my passionate belief that there is enormous value to conducting competitive intelligence." A better summary of the book could not be given. Unfortunately that excerpt was on the 2nd to last page. If you are looking for actual CI methods, check out "Strategic and Competitive Analysis: Methods and Techniques for Analyzing Business Competition" by Craig S. Fleisher & Babette E. Bensoussa.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2010
During my 20 years of marketing and competitive intelligence experience, I have worked for very small and very large companies. One thing they all have in common is an executive team that makes decisions about future strategy based on historic events and trends. Seena's book offers great tools you can use to get the decision makers looking into the future and changing their way of thinking to be more proactive.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2011
Seena Sharp truly is a thought leader on Competitive Intelligence (CI) and definitely one of the best authors of this moment on the profession. She proves this with her book, Competitive Intelligence Advantage, in which she continuously stresses the importance of actionable knowledge regarding a company's competitive landscape. She emphasizes the scope of CI and clearly explains the difference between CI and for instance market research, marketing intelligence and other related professions. By doing this she contributes to branding CI with great authority. In fact, one might even say Sharp is too keen on underlining the true nature of the profession by constantly emphasizing what Competitive Intelligence is - and is not. It is almost as if she is convinced the reader is in total disagreement. Be that as it may, the bottom line is that in the end she makes sure you agree with her.

Sharp teaches us quite some useful lessons in the course of the book. For one, she clearly demonstrates that for a proper CI system the whole competitive landscape should be watched. Not just customers (but she does mention this factor to be the first priority), especially not just competitors. All external factors that influence a company, directly or indirectly, should be considered. Other lessons include the emphasis on the present and (near) future rather than the (distant) past and the fact that if no action is taken as a result of the gathered competitive intelligence, you might as well not bother at all. Sharp offers many pearls of wisdom regarding the value of CI, if and when conducted properly.

At the halfway mark of her book, Sharp shifts the scope from `why' to `how'. It is almost like an entirely different book from this stage on, the tone changing from a scientific lecture on the profession - thoroughly substantiated with a large number of cases (clearly displaying Sharp's wealth of experience) - to an extremely practical how-to guide to CI (in less than a day). The wide variety of practical (but slightly incoherent) tips and tricks will certainly be of help should you be in need of it in that particular area. But it almost seems as if Sharp wants to share everything she found out about the practical side of CI, without forging it into a process structure (or any other type of structure for that matter). The chapters move from a practical questionnaire for the sake of inspiration (questions a company could ask as a starting point for CI) to a chapter about what information sources can be found and where, to yet another chapter about ethics. All very useful, no doubt about that, but in a next issue I think it would be good to structure them by means of for instance the intelligence cycle. And then, amidst the tips and tricks, Sharp suddenly shifts back to a chapter about myths (reasons why CI is not important, profitable, worth the effort, etc.), where she once again creates an opportunity to flee in explaining the `why' part, because that seems to be her comfort zone.

Conclusion

As a relatively seasoned CI professional, I found Seena Sharp's book, Competitive Intelligence Advantage, to be great reading material. Even if you do not (always) agree with her, it is great to match your thoughts with the broad experience and knowledge Sharp displays in her book. This makes Sharp and her book excellent sparring partners for anyone interested in CI. The first half of the book is not so much a `how to' for CI. Instead, Sharp emphasizes the value of CI, focusing on the `why'. The second half on the other hand is a rich collection of practical, more practical and extremely practical tips for anyone practitioning CI. For me personally, the first half of the book benefited me most. Sharp helped sharpen the boundaries of my personal definition of CI. The way Sharp describes the differences between CI and related fields such as market research helped me `sell' the value of CI. But more importantly, her book has been a real eye opener on several occasions. For example when she provokingly states - bluntly against the opinion of many - that competitors are the least important external factor, she triggered me to (re)think this over, and convinced me that in fact she is right about this. For opportunities come from change, not from competitors.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
After more than a quarter century in Market Research, this book had me slapping myself on the forehead saying, "Why didn't I think of that?"

It's also one of the few business books that give you clear examples of what works, what doesn't and what you can do about it.

Yet the best part is that the author is teaching us to think - to use our common sense and to think beyond our usual patterns, which have often left hundreds of businesses, old and new, large and small, at least disappointed, if not dismayed, or worse.

I am reminded of the popular political term "vetting," the current way of saying that we have to get all the information that we can about the people and circumstances that will impact our program - who they are, what they know, how they think, their connections and their overall "fit" for the job.

Sharp reminds us that this scrutiny should also be so in the business realm. Imagine, for example, what would happen if you had invested both time and money on a new client/product, only to learn at the last minute that you have wasted it all on a prototype that cannot be developed, for technical reasons that should have been discovered before spending a dime. (See chapter 7, page 140 to read a tale you'll be glad wasn't yours.)

As I see this book, Seena Sharp's aim is to encourage the Market Research business (among others) to start looking at all the circumstances that will impact us and our clients - not only the usual surveys and number crunching that can keep us too focused on the consumer, but also what's going on out in our wide, ever changing world. This calls for a much broader view of what we need to know, and what else matters in our particular business, including such influences as the economy, the culture, technology, and another dozen or so mentioned in Sharp's book. I'd say she hit her target.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2009
I am a Senior Finance Manager and was looking for information to help me build a competitive intelligence team for my company. I have bought and read many competitive and business intelligence books, and this book is one of the best. The content is not only about the "what" of CI but also has solid examples and resources for how to solve certain problems. As someone who is responsible for implementing projects, the "How" is much more valuable than the "What". I particularly like some of the websites and resource she recommended for doing CI investigation. For example, recently I was helping a friend prepare for a job interview for a CFO position. He wanted to get information on the CEO before the interview, but unfortunately the company is a private family owned business and the CEO is very private, so he doesn't have a Linkedin account and searches on the web found nothing. Only after two days of investigating did I manage to find an article about the CEO in a local High School newspaper. He had given a speech about how to run a successful business. In the speech, he provided the students some background information about himself such as schooling and interests. This was exactly what my friend was looking for to help him prepare for the job interview. This book is also very well written and has good stories, so reading it was quick and enjoyable.

If you are really interested in developing CI models, I also highly recommend the book: Business and Competitive Analysis Effective Application of New and Classic Method by Craig S. Fleisher and Babette E. Bensoussan. Unlike this book, it is not one you can read before bedtime and most of the information is the "What", but regardless, a great reference book for different strategic business models.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2011
Seena Sharp's Competitive Intelligence Advantage is the first book in this category that I have happened upon and I found the treatment extremely helpful in getting up to speed without bogging down in minutia.

By far for me the best chapter was Chapter 3, where Sharp differentiates competitive intelligence from competitor intelligence. Competitor intelligence has the narrow objective of uncovering critical information about parties you compete with; competitive intelligence "takes a broader, more objective and accurate view of what business faces" and what can derail or disrupt your organization.

By emphasizing the need to examine the competitive landscape, Sharp showed me a new window and a new tool for examining all those elements that are important in assessing future near term threats and also opportunities. As an expert in business innovation, Clayton Christensen's theory of disruption has had a major impact. What this book did was to show me a new way to enlarge the scope of my vision to include all the ramifications and implications. Sharp quotes a Shell vice president in Chapter 3 who tells a conference "the big decisions that failed at Shell didn't fail because of our operations or because of project management. They failed because we misunderstood the external world."

I believe this book will help the reader having to make a similar statement, if even some of the ideas and suggestions the author makes are implemented.

-- Robert B. Tucker, author of Innovation is Everybody's Business
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