Gathering and Using Intelligence
Information has to be organized to test a company’s assumptions about its theory of its business.
Information has to be organized to challenge a company’s strategy. It has to test the company’s assumptions about its theory of its business. This in cludes testing the company’s assumptions about its environment—society and its structure, the market, the customer, and technology. And informa- tion on the environment, where the major threats and opportunities are likely to arise, has become increasingly urgent. Then there are assumptions about the specific mission of the company. Third, there are assumptions about an organization’s core competencies needed to accomplish its mis- sion. Software may be designed to provide this information tailored to a specific group such as hospitals, universities, or casualty insurance companies. Companies can produce some of the information they need themselves, such as information about customers and noncustomers. But even big companies will have to hire outside experts to help them acquire and organize the information they need. The sources are simply too diverse. Most of what the enterprise needs to know about the environment is available only from outside sources —from all kinds of data banks and data services, from journals in many languages, from trade associations, from government publications, from World Bank reports, from scientific papers, or from specialized studies.
The Failed Strategy
Most of the people who persist in the wilderness leave nothing behind but bleached hones.
When a strategy or an action doesn’t seem to be working, the rule is, “If at first you don’t succeed, try once more. Then do something else.” The first time around, a new strategy very often doesn’t work. Then one must sit down and ask what has been learned. Maybe the service isn’t quite right. Try to improve it, to change it, and make another major effort. Maybe, though I am reluctant to encourage this, you might make a third effort. After that, go to work where the results are. There is only so much time and so many resources, and there is so much work to be done.
There are exceptions. You can see some great achievements where people labored in the wilderness for twenty-five years. But these examples are very rare. Most of the people who persist in the wilderness leave nothing behind but bleached bones. There are also true believers who are dedicated to a cause where success, failure, and results are irrelevant, and we need such people. They are our conscience. But very few of them achieve. Maybe their rewards are in Heaven. But that’s not sure either. “There is no joy in Heaven over empty churches,” Saint Augustine wrote sixteen hundred years ago to one of his monks who busily built churches all over the desert. So, if you have no results, try a second time. Then look at it carefully and move on to something else.
Strategic planning deals with futurity of present decisions.
Traditional planning asks: “What is most likely to happen?” Planning for uncertainty asks, instead: “What has already happened that will create the future?
Strategic planning is not a box of tricks, a bundle of techniques. It is analytical thinking and commitment of resources to action. It is the continuous process of making present entrepreneurial decisions systematically and with the greatest knowledge of their futurity, organizing systematically the efforts needed to carry out these decisions, and measuring the results of these decisions against the expectations through organized, systematic feed-back. The question that faces the strategic decision-maker is not what his organization should do tomorrow. It is: “What do we have to do today to be ready for an uncertain tomorrow?” The question is not what will happen in the future. It is” “What futurity do we have to build into our present thinking and doing, what time spans do we have to consider, and how do we use this information to make a rational decision now?”
The Test of Intelligence Information
The ultimate test of an information system is that there are no surprises.
The ultimate test of an information system is that there are no surprises. Before events become significant, executives have already adjusted to them, analyzed them, understood them, and taken appropriate action. One example is the very few American financial institutions that, in the late 1990s, were not surprised by the collapse of mainland Asia. They had thought through what “information” means in respect to Asian economies and Asian currencies. They had gradually eliminated all the information they got from within their own subsidiaries and affiliates in these countries—these, they had begun to realize, were just “data.” Instead, they had begun to organize their information about such things as the ratio between short-term borrowing and the country’s balance of payments and information about funds available to service foreign short-term debt. Long before these ratios turned so unfavorable as to make a panic in mainland Asia inevitable, these executives had realized that it was coming. They realized that they had to decide whether to pull out of these countries, or to stay for the very long term. They had, in other words, realized what economic data are meaningful in respect to emerging countries, had organized them, had analyzed them, and had interpreted them. They had turned the data into information —and had decided what action to take long before that action became necessary.