From intelligence to insight: filtering out the noise
Soldiers across the world and down the ages will tell you that time spent on reconnaissance is rarely wasted. When lives are at stake it pays to find out as much as you can about the enemy's strength, deployment and intentions.
The Army General receiving information from his scouts, spies (and, today, drones) needs to have the right mind-set to understand what the ‘signals-in-the-noise’ actually are. That is easier said than done.
A story told to me by my friend Alan Newman who was in the army tells of a cavalry commander who sent out scouts. He was clear about the information he required. Being a cavalry man he wanted to know how many horses there were, did they look strong and healthy or tired, how many of them were equipped to pull pieces of artillery, and, from the uniforms, were the enemy forces elite regiments or not?
Just after dawn the scouts rode off.
Early that afternoon, from different directions, the scouts were seen returning at the gallop. "Well?" enquired the cavalry commander, "How many horses do they have? What regiments?"
Wide-eyed and breathless and with a single voice the scouts shouted, "Tanks!"
The cavalry commander seemed perplexed. "Answer my question!" he said, "How many horses do they have? What regiments?"
"That doesn't matter sir", said one of the scouts. "The enemy is sending TANKS!"
The commander wasn't willing to tear up his plans for a battle involving horses, artillery and infantry. With his decades of experience he knew that this could be his finest hour. As he was considering how to make sense of his scouts' new information, or ignore it, he was killed by a shell exploding a few metres away. It had been fired by a tank.
It’s very difficult to separate the noise from real signals and even more difficult to connect signals that result in meaningful and actionable ideas. Change is accelerating at warp speed. We will see more change in the next 18 months than in the last three/five years. Two key statistics really resonated with me recently:
- The majority of people worldwide wouldn’t care if 73% of brands disappeared tomorrow; (Via Havas Media)
- 52% of the fortune 500 firms since 2000 have disappeared. (Via Constellation Research)
Is your business relevant to customers?
The reality is that people are busy with their day jobs and mostly don’t have the time to look at what’s out there.
Employ business Scouts: like in football, the good ones will find you rough diamonds or strike real gold. As a consequence you will end up paying top dollar for good ones that everyone knows about.
- Make sure they know your business well; your vision; your pains; your culture etc.;
- Especially, look well beyond the large established players. The real opportunity lies in the small guy/start-up and their crazy ideas;
- Make sure you have a structured way of feeding the Scout(s) ideas/findings into the enterprise and it does not get stuck between silos or corporate paralysis. You need executive backing and time.
Optimising the existing customer experiences may not be enough. Off-the-shelf customer experience solutions will only get you so far. Is it time to move beyond optimising what you have and focusing on reinventing the customer experience. These days that means new digitally-infused business models.