How Executives Find & Value Information

ForbesInsightA recent Forbes survey of 354 executives at large US companies indicates that competitor analysis is the most critical area for research. This bodes well for competitive intelligence, but somehow my phone isn’t ringing off the hook.

The Internet is valued more than any other information source, including internal, external and personal contacts as well as newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, conferences and trade shows.

Rob Shaddock, former Senior VP and CTO of Tyco Electronics (now TE Electronics) explains his preference for digital information, “Newspapers and print are static. Often an article leaves you with just so many additional questions…on line, it’s so easy to find additional information.”

This is SCARY: info gained through the Internet is valued over experts! Furthermore, the c-suite first turns to mainstream search engines such as Google, Yahoo or Live Search. Yikes! They’re informative, but my, they’re shallow and, sometimes inaccurate and usually not that timely—the essential ingredients behind competitive intelligence—timely and accurate!

However, on the positive side, I like it that the c-suite does their own searching. Previously I think they relied too much on information from others and could more easily be blindsided by filtered information from managers who wanted to push their agendas. Now the c-suite is more armed to ask provocative questions based on their own research. However, their blinders might be swinging to an over-reliance on Google and the like!

Executives will dig through multiple links to find the information they seek and I can understand why they “Google” since search engines are “free” and easily accessed. However, to make good decisions, we need a balance of sources and I hate to think that the Internet wins over human intelligence—where you can engage in a dialog, not just more searching and multiple links!

I wonder how much time our leadership wastes looking for data, which could be found so much faster through the various paid sources such as Dialog, Dow Jones, Thomson reports or the invisible web. I’m also concerned that the c-suite might be further distancing itself from people—who have expertise from years of industry experience—in favor of Internet searching. The answers and analysis that are required to make good decisions do not reside on the Internet!

The digital age has forever changed the c-suite. Younger executives make extensive use of social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook—which allow them to engage with a far broader group of people than they would meet otherwise—another great resource to prevent from being blindsided. President Obama epitomizes today’s c-suite executive as the first president to use email, social networks and a Blackberry.

Thankfully personal and professional contacts still trump virtual networks. Sophie Zurquiyah, former Chief Technology Officer at Schlumberger says, “I get the most valuable insight from my interactions with people.” She mixes the views “of vendors, colleagues, internal managers, workers…” While technologies such as email or Web video certainly enable such interaction, “you can never lose sight of the personal aspects—relationships with people are your most valuable information resources. You cannot discount personal interaction.”

You can read this set of articles in the July Forbes magazine. It goes into much more depth, and doesn’t include my editorial comments! I hope you’re having a great summer—those of you in the Northern hemisphere. It’s heavenly here in Conifer, Colorado!

Yesterday I sent this out as a newsletter…it evoked so many comments that I thought I better share this with you too, so you can share your thoughts and experiences dealing with executives.  If you want to subscribe to my newsletter fill in the blanks here, and get your freebie.

Another source for comments and provocative discussion is our CI Ning where August Jackson created a forum around this bulletin. Connecting with the executive suite has always been a challenge for competitive intelligence professionals, but now that they can access information so readily, it’s even worse since it can give one a false sense of power! Today more than ever, we need to help our executives realize the value of accurate, insightful intelligence–which is NOT posted on the Internet!

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6 thoughts on “How Executives Find & Value Information”

  1. Thanks for writing about this. I posted the article to the AIIP group. It is indeed scary and means we must work harder to communicate the benefit of working with an information professional.

  2. This is good stuff, re. analysis on how execs search and find information relevant to them on a regular basis. However, If this is the reality, than determine where best to insert our services – this shouldn’t be about making the client wrong, or ‘convincing’ such executives to use our professional services, but rather where can we add value to their information requirements and get on with it. I’m getting tired of the implicit message that somehow the exec/patron/client/customer isn’t doing it right and they need our help. The reality is, the customer is right most of the time, so why do we blame them for not using our services? Just curious!

  3. Hi Leo,

    You’re right the client, the executives, aren’t wrong by not using our services. We’re “Wrong” since they don’t realize the value of using our services. I want to share 3 comments that August Jackson shared in reference to this post on our Competitive Intelligence Ning, since the same words could also be used in reference to information professionals.

    Three challenges, opportunities or roles for CI practitioners immediately jump to my mind:

    1. We need to be aware of what our senior executives and other internal customers are reading in their info self-service. What search engines do they use? What publications do they read and trust? We need to know this because we then need to scan these for relevant information that may impact the assumptions or thought processes of our customers.

    2. CI practitioners need to synchronize some portion of their products (ad hoc project deliverables, newsletters, briefings, etc.) to add context, support, build on or refute information from preferred self-service information sources appropriately. We can quote from trusted sources to gain credibility and be prepared if we’re going to counter a trusted source (regardless if we mention them by name).

    3. CI practitioners may have a role here to improve customers’ information self-service skills. This would include giving them the tools to conduct better searches (some Advanced Search Options 101 such as booleans, negative searches, looking in specific domains, etc.). We should also work on turning them into good evaluators and skeptical users of information to evaluate the reliability and credibility of sources and information they find through their self-service activities.

    I liked his ideas and Tom Hawes provided a comment so far…check it out at:

  4. Hi Ellen,

    Great post filled with meaty stuff. How do we get people to realize they don’t know as much as they think they know? Phew, you answer that – you get a billion dollars.

    The PEW Internet has reported that 9 out of 10 of Americans think they can get anything they need from search engines. A more recent British study replicated those figures exactly.

    We all know that students, entrepreneurs and CEO’s lack even the most rudimentary search skills. Which is why it’s balderdash to suggest that the customer is always right. When it comes to gathering the information they need on the Internet, they simply have no clue.

    We’re in the dawn of an information age where huge torrents of raw data have burst onto our computers. It’s no wonder that people don’t have a clue how to go about swimming out to the good stuff. It will take time, but articles like yours and the discussions that go with it, will help the process along.


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