Knowledge & Inspiration

Our books and articles hopefully assist you in upgrading your strategy and competitive intelligence capabilities. The various articles are either linked to steps in the strategic analysis cycle or are covering more generic topics related to strategy, intelligence or (counter) intelligence in business.


Strategic Analysis Cycle – Handbook, LID Publishing Ltd., London, 2017. For sale at all large online bookshops.

Strategic Analysis Cycle – Toolbook, LID Publishing Ltd., London, 2017. For sale at all large online bookshops.

Concurreren op Kennis, Uitgeverij Business Contact, Amsterdam, 2020. Retails in most large online bookshops.


Articles related to
Strategy, intelligence and counterintelligence:

‘Strategy’ is an indefinable elephant


We see the word so often. We may even use it thoughtlessly. I know I do.

‘Strategic analysis’ is easily defined: the collection and interpretation of data regarding the business environment of a firm, and reporting the conclusions to underpin a firm’s decision-making. When, however, we reflect upon the single, oft-used, word ‘strategy’, I realize that it is rarely properly defined.

What is ‘strategy’? What does it mean in general, and what does it mean in a business context?

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How to protect secrets through studying the psychology of defectors

Secrets are spilled all around us

Revelation upon revelation hits the press. Leaks have always been there, but in today’s post-truth world the frequency of leaking looks to hit all-time-high levels. Clearly, Wikileaks with its enigmatic leader Julian Assange has already been around for some time. Edward Snowden’s spilling of NSA-secrets is already old news, even when his self-serving biography sells like crazy. Thinking about this, some questions came to my mind…

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Where to find unusual inspiration for protecting business secrets

Whether in politics, in battle or in business, usually the upper hand is with the party that is better informed and/or is better able to analyze the data they have. Thinking about this I wondered whether this is symmetrical. In other words, whether a loss of data also automatically equates to a loss of power. Sometimes it does. When the USA in the late 1940s discovered that the USSR had stolen its atomic weapon secrets, this suddenly redefined the global power equation. And obviously not in the US’ advantage. What is true in the military similarly applies in business. Business secrets are also worth protecting. They need protection against ordinary humans; people like you and me. As I will show below the biggest risk of losing secrets relates to the human tendency to spill them.

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What business can learn from a study on the future of war

The ultimate objective of any strategist is to look clearer into the future than her neighbor. Doing so should enable her to choose the smarter moves and to better allocate her resources than her adversaries – in the wake realizing wins in markets or on battlefields.
You can thus imagine my joy when I discovered Sir Lawrence Freedman’s newest book had been called: The Future of War. What more do you need as a strategist than get an expert’s view on what war will look like in the future? War, after all, has so often been a useful metaphor for business competition. War and business tend to be driven by the same all too human drivers for power and recognition. They so connect to what defines the human condition. Hence, The Future of War may inform on the future of business.

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How wargames contribute to winning strategies

Wargames have extensively proven their value in the military. That is old news. This paper’s new news is that wargames can be used as instruments of strategy design in business as well. Wargames can be applied to create innovative and powerful insights that other tools would never have generated. In business as in the military the best strategies are built on such insights.
Such insight-based strategies are aimed to so demoralize the adversary that they lose their willingness to compete or fight. These strategies make the adversary embarrassedly leave the battlefield, never to return. This is equally true whether the battlefield is your market or a disputed territory. These are the strategies we aim for in business. These are also the strategies we want to deny our adversaries to ever deploy successfully against us. This paper will show how to define and develop these strategies, using wargames as tool.

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How to timely discover market disruption

In 2016, The Rolling Stones informed the world that they would release a new album. Rather than launching more of their own rock & roll, they announced to honor blues songs that had been the sources of their own inspiration. The older you get, the fresher your memories from the days of your youth, right? Reading the news about the Stones I had two thoughts: .1. The Rolling Stones had been disruptors in their youth. .2. What source of inspiration could I honor in an article? This led me to think of the best management book I have ever read: The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen (1997). Indeed, the key theme of the book provides the subliminal link to The Rolling Stones: it is about Disruptive Innovation.

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How to measure success of in-company competitive intelligence

There is a difference between a norm and a value. A norm is something that is so embedded in your thinking that you don’t think of it anymore. A classic example of a norm has been provided by expert Fons Trompenaars. Fons gives the example of a norm that postulates that in your company you don’t shoot people. This is so obvious that it requires no further elucidation. Hence, you never communicate about it at your company’s leadership days. You also never read about e-learning programs being offered to encourage you and your colleagues to leave their handgun or axis at home. In your company there is no need to remind your corporate leaders to set a good example by stopping to shoot people themselves, in doing so trickling down the good behavior to the ranks.

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How to educate and develop (market intelligence) analysts

When considering how to select, educate, train and professionally develop the strategic analysis or market intelligence1 officer and analyst2 of the future, the first thing that came to my mind was an aphorism minted by Stephen Covey: “begin with the end in mind”.
When attempting to answer this essay’s title question, properly defining the end may well be imperative prior to beginning. My first step towards an answer thus starts with a question: how to define the end in market intelligence?
The desired end state in market intelligence for the purpose of answering our question is defined as:
“Market intelligence is to significantly contribute to the successful definition and execution of a company’s strategy”
For market intelligence deliverables to contribute in this way, the first requirement the deliverables need to meet is that they must be used by decision-makers. The latter are being defined as the principals of the market intelligence work that themselves operate outside the intelligence community.
When is market intelligence work being acted upon? In my experience, when the work is of convincing quality in at least two dimensions. Excellence is required both in content and in persuasiveness of delivery. This reasoning allows us to draw an interim conclusion. The analyst of the future needs to be selected, educated, trained and professionally developed both to deliver work of great content as well as of strong persuasiveness towards the relevant decision-makers. So far, this is nothing new. The requirement to deliver great content in a persuasive manner is timeless. The addictive beauty of market intelligence work is hidden in a single word: it is about the future. What analyst can meet this requirement in the future? For this, we need to look forward.

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How to define the discipline of intelligence

Once I worked for a company of which the organization was highly decentralized. Management teams of individual business units had a relatively high degree of autonomy. Their charters were broadly financial. As a result, the teams running the individual business units each more resembled the executive board of an independent medium-size company than interconnected teams within a larger holding. In that organizational framework I operated as an internal strategy consultant. To further improve the quality of our strategic plans and the related subsequent business execution I observed a clear need for improving the quality of strategic analysis underpinning such plans. As I aimed to implement this quality improvement change program across several business units, I decided to develop an in-company training on strategic analysis that I could roll-out across the various units.

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How to define strategy for data-driven "winner-takes-all" markets

For any strategist the world risk assessment published annually by the World Economic Forum makes interesting reading. This document shows that the power of the largest data-based companies may destabilize the world order as we today know it. Together with climate change and related migration flows, the techies are considered to form one of the world’s largest sources of potential future societal and economic instability.

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How to avoid failing in Big Deal M&A by asking some simple questions

Why do so many big M&A deals fail? Business literature consistently reports that more than half of all deals do not deliver their planned business case. Quite a few of these big deals result end in downright misery. For this, explanations range from deal fever to groupthink1. Fortunately, methodological solutions are available for operating better M&A processes2. This article, however, is not about a better M&A process as such. This blog just shares an insight I recently got and that I believe may contribute to your next deal’s success. This insight came to me when I attended a lecture at the history faculty of Leyden University. Historical research, summarized by professor Sir Lawrence Freedman from King’s College, London, suggests that ‘(military) alliances are a precursor to war’. Let me explain why I believe this observation, perhaps rather improbably, matters to the business of doing Big Deals.

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How to apply wargaming to win business victories

Humans have an irresistible urge to play. My trigger for writing this blog, however, was not some sports game. The trigger was the fact that the US in February 2016 announced to quadruple its budget for defending the northeastern flank of the NATO territory. This spending focuses on the three Baltic states that after almost three decades of independence do not wish to be reintegrated into Russia, trying to avoid what happened to the Crimea and parts of Georgia and Eastern Ukraine.

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Articles related to the various
Steps in the Strategic Analysis Cycle:

Project Definition

How to choose a name for a competitive intelligence project

Obviously, I don’t know about your experience, but when I look around me, I see that among the funniest activities while working in business strategy is defining code names for new projects. Defining a code name is like creating a cryptogram. When you know the link between the name and the project to be obscured by your naming, the link is so obvious you will never forget it. When you don’t it is and should be impossible to guess.

Project names are essential to hide corporate secrets from colleagues and all others that have no need to know them. The secrets often relate to the names of other companies that are in scope in the project, for example as acquisition target. Especially when the other companies are listed and when the transaction in scope could be share price sensitive, secrecy becomes imperative. Insider knowledge easily turns into insider trading – a punishable crime. In short: a good project name is a serious and often legally required matter but…

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How to optimize data collection through friendliness

There are times when re-reading texts you have read before still enables you to generate new insights. This happened to me recently when I revisited the Seven Principles of Knowledge Management(1).

To limit the scope of this blog, I will introduce you to just one of these principles. I will choose one that has directly influenced decisions I subsequently made. To me applicability is the hallmark of a useful theory. Hence, I assumed that the way I benefitted from this theory may be indicative of how you may benefit from it as well. Therefore, I invite you to join me on my voyage of discovery. The principle is…

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How to do intelligence analysis in a post-truth world

Post-truth in a historic context

Even when it happened three years ago, it is still true. The Oxford Dictionary has selected “post-truth” as word of the year 2016. These words relate very much to 2016; a year of surprises to many. The two most prominent surprises may well have been the Brexit and the Trump vote.

Surprises, for all their unexpectedness, however, tend to have things in common. Consider next to Brexit and Trump the following historic surprises…

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How to defy deception in analysis

LinkedIn facilitated the spread of a news story that Barack H. Obama had – as a final act of his presidency – ordered a bronze statue of himself, to be placed in the White House. The news was accompanied with a vague image of the statue in the Oval Office. It went viral. Some commented it was fake news. Others simply liked it as it confirmed all that they disliked about Obama. These individuals considered him evil and this was simply further proof. Moreover, history has all too often shown that power and wealth do strange things to people. Therefore, this too must be true. To paraphrase the title of a book on Putin’s Russia1, it seems that today “Nothing is true and everything is possible”. The picture of the statue in the Oval Office triggered me to question what a (market) intelligence analyst can still believe today. Here is what I found…

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How to protect against the personal experience bias

Nothing beats irony. Take Daniel Kahneman. He received the Nobel Price for Economics for his work on behavioral economy. Among others, he convincingly demonstrated:

–        the rational consumer does not exist outside textbooks and theories of economy; humans rarely act rational.
–        the human mind is a machine made for jumping to conclusions.

The urge to draw instant conclusions when exposed to data must have had evolutionary benefits, otherwise the human mind would have been wired differently by now. In today’s world, however, being deceived by your own mind is rarely practical. Biases tend to be like snipers, they hit before you see them. It is hubris to think you can defy them…

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How to avoid believing your narrative rather than submitting to facts

Even when it happened three years ago, it is still true. The Oxford Dictionary has selected “post-truth” as word of the year 2016. These words relate very much to 2016; a year of surprises to many. The two most prominent surprises may well have been the Brexit and the Trump vote.

Surprises, for all their unexpectedness, however, tend to have things in common. Consider next to Brexit and Trump the following historic surprises…

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How to protect your brain from creating narratives from random data

When I was responsible for competitive intelligence in a dairy firm, I tended to take news about animals pretty seriously. Thus, I came across a study on the personality of sheep based on a scientific article that featured in the Jan. 2016 edition of the scientific journal called Applied Animal Behavior Science.

The authors of this study described their extensive research trying to identify personality traits within a small herd of sheep. They varied a number of external factors that faced the sheep – like the perceived attractiveness of their shed, shed temperature and group composition. They subsequently monitored the sheep’s individual responses to these changes. Think of head movements, blood levels and movement patterns.

Guess what. There was virtually no single cause and effect relationship to be determined…

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How to use proxy indicators in predictive analytics

When the weather is miserable, I discover myself longing for next days’ weather forecast. It can’t be worse, but maybe it will be better. Reflecting upon this I realized the relevance of your starting point when you do a forecast. Your starting point is often a valuable predictor. Today it has been raining cats and dogs. In the absence of any other data, for predicting tomorrow’s weather the safest forecast is to predict more cats and dogs, right? When doing so we take today’s weather as a proxy indicator for forecasting tomorrow’s weather. Here the proxy indicator has a causal link with the prediction. The fact that today has been rainy may relate to a depression that tomorrow will still be there (or rather: here) and that may bring more rain.

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How to prevent the premature closing bias to distort analysis

Consider yourself to be a project leader in a business meeting, with some big shots being there with you. The next item on the meeting’s agenda is your proposal for empowering your company’s customers and employees with easy access to market data. Your proposal is a response to a clear executive question in a previous meeting. Now you and they reconvene, and they are curious to hear what you propose.
The data to be shared are already in the public domain. Hence, there are no concerns regarding confidentiality. In addition, your company owns the copyrights of the data so there are no legal issues either. Today the data are scattered and thus inconvenient to locate. Your solution will create a service that delivers convenience in data collection to your customers and employees.
Given that the investment is moderate, you have a solid business case. Much time will be saved that today is wasted in collection. Operational cost will also be modest. Governance is simple too. A staff department will get the responsibility to keep the system up to date. This department will also manage the service requests any future beneficiaries may have.
In summary, the objectives that implementing the system will deliver are:
– to share the data as and when they become available, so to be timely
– to share all the relevant data that we can find, so to be complete
– to check all data by a sort of quality assessor, so to be accurate

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How to prevent silent assumptions to misinform decisions

What is a better proof of original thinking than creating a proverbial metaphor as contribution to a language? A shining example, I guess, is the “Black Swan”. The swan has been introduced by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his bestseller book1 with the same name. Here’s how the black swan entered our language, should you not be familiar.
Up to about the year 1600 no European had ever seen a swan having any other color than white. White had thus become an inalienable attribute of the swan. When Westerners started to explore other parts of the world, they encountered the black swan. This is an indigenous animal in Australia. This caused a shock. The hypothesis that white was an attribute of a swan had to be revised. Forced change causes pain; embedded beliefs had to be reviewed.
After all, when you have never seen a black swan, you forcefully deny that a black swan can exist. You rate such existence as highly improbable if not downright impossible. Here comes Taleb. He postulates that what we perceive to be highly improbable or even impossible – like seeing a black swan when you don’t know one exists – is much less improbable than our mind tells us it is. As so often, we fool ourselves. A black swan is not fundamentally unpredictable. it is only unpredictable when we allow our minds to make it so.

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How to prevent being hit by a confirmation bias

Imagine you have a 15-year-old fashionista daughter like I had at the time of this anecdote. At the internet she discovered a male fashion artist. She comes up to me with the following facts:
– he recently moved to another city.
– he has or has had a connection with Amsterdam (this is unclear).
– he lives on xxxxx-street number 319 in Utrecht.
– he runs a shop from his house.
– he is young.
– from the street you can recognize his shop by his logo displayed in the window.
– a picture of the window with the logo features on his website; the picture shows more than just the single window, details of the façade are visible as well.
– a Google-streetview analysis shows that flats dominate xxxxx-street in Utrecht.
As a caring father, I didn’t want my little girl to go visit a male artist alone. This policy would have applied to any male, I hate to discriminate artists. So, we set out to xxxxx-street 319 in Utrecht. I have lived near Utrecht and knew the street, so we didn’t use a navigation system. What did we find?

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How to make sense of executives' statements

In November 2017 the Russian October revolution1 took place exactly a century ago. According to some historians, this revolution kicked off the short 20th century that lasted until Christmas day of 1991 when the Soviet Union fell apart. Similarly, in November 2018 it was 100 years ago that in a rail carriage in Compiegne, France the armistice of the First World War has been signed. For this armistice to be possible, the Russian revolution was a critical precursor as was another event: the forced abdication of Wilhelm II of respectively the German imperial and of the Prussian monarchial throne on Nov. 9, 19182.
With Russia in 1919 tied up in a post-revolutionary civil war and Germany defeated, the allies used the power vacuum in Europe to dictate the peace treaty of Versailles onto the Germans. The harsh and humiliating character of this treaty triggered a severe economic crisis in Germany and the resentment of its populace in 1920s and early 1930s. Nazism resulted, and the rest is history. I guess remembering historic events is a good thing. As I see it, the power of (studying) history is to learn lessons that enable one to act smarter in the future.

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How to avoid the authority bias to affect the quality of decisions

“What are you doing here? The birthday party is next week Saturday… That is not to say you are not welcome, to the contrary, but…” This is how one of our long-time friends welcomed my wife and me recently. We appeared at the right doorstep, but at the wrong time. Embarrassed and amused I looked at my wife, who had assured me of this timing. We had both received the invitation email. After I had seen my wife putting the appointment in our family calendar, I had (unwisely) decided to ignore it. When my wife puts down an appointment, who am I to doubt the accuracy?
Trying to reconstruct the logic of failure1, I later wondered why we gave our friends a surprise party last Saturday. Obviously, my wife and I both made mistakes. My wife mixed up the timings. These things happen; I am the last one to blame her. My mistake, however, was more interesting. I believe I suffered from the authority bias, which I will now elucidate.

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How to avoid overlooking cultural differences in a globalized world

Business has become global. It is a cliché, but it is true. An increasingly unified way of doing business globally, however, seems not to have converged into a single globally aspired endgame for how people across the world want to live their lives. This current insight stands in some contrast to what optimists have suggested earlier. Take Francis Fukuyama. He wrote the book “The end of history and the last man” around 1990, in the wake of the fall of the Berlin wall, now thirty years ago. It is a fascinating book. He sketches a world where essentially all nations on earth are on the way to embracing a liberal democratic society model. The Western model had won. The West had provided the blueprint for how to live happily together ever after. Ample facts and figures provided by Fukuyama illustrated that the roll-out of the model globally proceeded well. It was only a matter of time and especially wealth generation in those countries that were still in transition towards the model, before the model would be the global universal standard.

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How the way you present your options affects decision-making

Sometimes you read an insight that simply sticks. It sorts of glues itself in your mind. You can’t resist thinking about it again. You may recognize this happening to yourself. It happened to me when I read one of Michael Lewis’ latest books1. The book portrays how the relatively new science of Behavioral Economics came into being and how its founding fathers, the psychologists Kahneman and Tversky, reshaped part of economic theory.

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What six factors to keep in mind when communicating to management

In 2018 we remembered that 100 years ago World War I ended. Publishers used the centennial remembrance of World War I to reissue books covering this dark period in the history of mankind. One of those republished books (the first edition was published in 1958) is called The Zimmermann telegram1. It provides a fascinating story that I will summarize here.

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How to be persuasive while debriefing

Management does not automatically act on your recommendation

When Henry Kissinger was National Security Adviser to the US President, he once received high-grade intelligence from a new analyst. Kissinger, however, did not act upon it. When afterwards the intelligence proved to have been correct and an opportunity had been missed, Kissinger reputedly said to the analyst(1):

Well, you warned me but you did not convince me”

Does this sound familiar? It certainly does to me. After tedious work you discover and communicate a competitive threat to a company. But nothing happens. As per your forecast the threat unfolds. You warned but did not convince. What enables me to cope with this happening is to remember the following equation…

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How to get management to use analysis
The biggest hurdle for a business analyst: getting his or her output used

During a recent holiday I reflected on what I see as the most complicated task for an analyst delivering competitive intelligence output to management. After some thinking I decided that it makes sense to distinguish between things that are within your control as analyst and things that are not. The former things – e.g. collecting good data – may be challenging, but are not the most complicated. Here, practice makes perfect.

The complications start with the things that you cannot control, e.g. the mind of your customer, the decision-maker. A decision-maker may order competitive intelligence work to be done. However, she may also collect her own inputs, or may be offered inputs by sources you do not know. Her own collection may also build up a picture of what there is to know. It is only at the time of delivery of your painstaking work that you discover that she has already made up her mind about the topic you report upon. Hence, she may choose a decision other than the facts that you offered seemed to hint at. How do you, as an analyst and business professional, handle that?

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