Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

CI: one acronym – two opposing world views


A few years ago, we came across a well-organised Swedish company involved in what it described as “Competitive Intelligence”; they were plying their trade mainly within the ultra-competitive world of mobile telecoms. We traced their network and affiliations and found that many former (mainly US and Israeli) military intelligence operatives were wowing the corporate world with their macho tales of industrial espionage, disinformation and so on. It seemed Competitive Intelligence was establishing itself as a major tool within some corporate knowledge management strategies courtesy of groups such as SCIP in the USA
Although arguably a necessary tool of foreign policy, conventional military intelligence is predisposed to produce catastrophic failures regardless of the resources thrown at it, such as the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999, Indian nuclear tests and the September 11 attacks.
In business, a comparable example of over-reliance on competitive intelligence is provided by the disaster of the 3G spectrum auctions, where a roster of major telecoms companies almost bankrupted themselves and each other by fighting to pay outrageous sums of money for 3G spectrum rights
Aside from the basics, such as keeping tabs on the prices, performance and plans of competitors, is competitive intelligence really the right approach for corporate knowledge development in the Internet age?
A conventional intelligence operation will often end up as the resource-hungry tail that not only wags the dog, but can often drive it to distraction. In modern knowledge organisations, its influence is even more dangerous because it assumes everybody is as sneaky as itself and breeds an atmosphere of mistrust. It is also highly vulnrerable to being “turned” and used against its master
Ironically, competititve intelligence shares an acronym with its polar opposite: cooperative intelligence. When we first looked into competitive intelligence, we wondered why knowledge management thinking had produced so little discussion about cooperative intelligence beyond the work of C19 thinkers such as John Dewey and others in the area of education and cultural development
Now, courtesy of George Por’s weblog, we learn of a Canadian Research Chair on Collective Intelligence at the University of Ottawa, whose manifesto sets out the bold goal of “increas[ing] global wealth by practicing dialog[ue] between different types of knowledge, ideas cross-fertilization and trans-cultural cooperation.” The same site also has a very brief collective intelligence FAQ with a rather bizarre diagram that demonstrates how emotional, formal and technical intelligence combine.

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