Tom Libertiny, Competitive Intelligence

“…and so we decided to develop our new product based on who we didn’t want as a client.”

I’ve used this unconventional long-term strategy to launch successful businesses, help not-for-profit organizations (NGO) to grow, and teach strategic planning during interactive training retreats.

Competitive Intelligence (CI)

According to Entrepreneur, CI is “the process of gathering actionable information on your business’s competitive environment.”

They go on to say that CI “…empowers you to anticipate and face challenges head-on.” (emphasis added).

When done well, a review of your competitive environment can and should form a part of your strategic planning. But, even under the best circumstances, CI is inherently based on past actions and typically a narrow review of a particular sector or series of sectors. This can frequently give rise to perpetual incremental improvements instead of the more desirable outcome, in most cases, of a change that leaps ahead of other organizations.

Example: World response to the COVID-19 virus.

Regardless of which organization or government entity, we’ve seen the adoption of things-that-work with a few refinements.

What we haven’t seen is a comprehensive look at what needs to happen in the near-term and long-term as an actionable strategy.

For COVID-19 the likely end game is the development of a vaccination and ideally, a cure for people already infected with it. Under the best conditions, it generally takes a minimum of 2 years to develop a vaccination and often times a decade.

In the meantime, “social distancing” is a non-scientific, near-term reaction based on anecdotal evidence.

This reaction is based on intelligence from medical organizations across the world as well as governments–a narrow niche.

Due to a lack of rigorous data collection throughout the world, it’s impossible to say with any level of accuracy how effective social distancing has been in comparison to the spread and resolution of other epidemics. But it’s fair to say that unless rigorously applied, something that no country has done or may be willing to do, it’s unlikely that this strategy will put a significant dent into the spread of the virus prior to the development of an effective vaccination.

Near-term Competitive Intelligence

In this case, let’s assume that near-term means a window of 2 to 5 years.

To develop a good strategy through the use of CI, we need to look well outside of the medical organization and government agency niches to sectors and organizations within sectors that have a successful track-record of virus and contamination control.

One of those sectors is the semi-conductor industry.


While a virus seems small to a human, it’s actually enormous when compared to the feature size of a transistor within a semiconductor chip (like the device that you’re using to read this story). In some cases, a virus could literally short-circuit parts of the chip which is a very expensive proposition for semiconductor manufacturers.

      • Viruses have an average diameter of 20 nanometers to 200 nanometers.
      • The feature size of transistors on a computer chip is less than 10 nanometers and decreasing each year.

What does all of this mean?

When we’re looking for high standards for cleanliness, semiconductor manufacturers are one of the sectors where we should be looking as a starting point for useful information.

To put this in perspective: a medical operating room (ISO 14644-1, Class ISO 6 rating) contains approximately 100,000 times more airborne particles in the virus size range per cubic meter than a Class ISO 1 rated semiconductor cleanroom.


As computer chips have gotten smaller over the past 10 years, clean rooms have become even cleaner than Class ISO 1.

Fortunately, humans don’t need the cleanliness level of a Class ISO 1 rated cleanroom in order to survive because our bodies can actively fight viruses, something a computer chip can’t do.

But there’s a lot of room for improvement by adopting the scientific study, data collection, testing protocols, and engineering design of cleanrooms, including why certain procedures have been developed to achieve a Class ISO 1 cleanrooms, that can be the foundation to developing an effective set of standards needed to reduce the spread of not only the COVID-19 virus pandemic but future virus pandemics.

That’s one example.

There are many more sectors to study including NASA contamination protocols developed for the Apollo moon landing missions in the 1960s.

I know what you’re thinking:

What’s my point?

Effective near-term Competitive Intelligence requires looking outside of the obvious niches of your organization.

Long-term strategy

Staying with our COVID-19 virus example, while it’s important to develop a vaccine and treatment for those who already have the virus, what we really need is a leap-ahead: determining how viruses mutate to become harmful to humans.

This requires that we jettison Competitive Intelligence and instead train or retain creative thinkers.

That’s a difficult task but within the realm of possibilities.  It requires a specific type of person who is able to determine what an out-of-the-cube solution could be without any constraints except physics as we understand it.


These solutions could very well be financially unaffordable or even unpalatable for a variety of reasons. But approving or rejecting an out-of-the-cube solution is a step that needs to be taken after a solution is identified.

It’s like the successful adage for writers:

Write first. Then come back and edit.

To find these people requires a wholesale change in how organizations recruit and hire people, which is a topic for a future story.

Competitive Intelligence:  Does it Lead to a Good Business Strategy?

If you and your CI team are committed to looking across sectors that may, at first glance, have nothing to do with your business, then CI makes sense as part of your near-term strategy.

For a successful long-term strategy, the type of success that’s commonly called a “moon-shot,” CI has little value.

What does have value is training a team of talent recruiters who can find the visionaries in our society and what it takes to retain them.

The key to finding them:

Determining what your end-goal is using less than 5 metrics that your organization agrees to.


Start with two pages of “must-haves” and whittle them down to 3-5 metrics.

Training your talent recruiters on how to identify the type of unconventional people who are creative thinkers/visionaries.

A typical computer algorithm isn’t going to work to find these people. This process will be labor-intensive.  On the other hand, Artificial Intelligence can help expedite what used to be labor-intensive.

Look well outside of your organization’s niche for the talent that you need.

If you invest the resources and time into these steps, you’ll be well on your way to a successful long-term strategy that sets your organization up to make a leap ahead of your competition.

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Tom Libertiny, Competitive Intelligence

Secrets to Success

  1. Near-term strategy:  If you and your Competitive Intelligence (CI) team are committed to looking across sectors that have nothing to do with your business, then CI makes sense.
  2. Long-term strategy:  Train a team of talent recruiters who can find the visionaries in our society and what it takes to retain them.
  3. Artificial Intelligence can help with finding potential visionaries.
  4. Analyzing potential employees will require investing the human resources of reviewing documentation and interviewing–this isn’t an area where standard database search routines (SQL) will be of much help, because the chances of missing a great candidate is likely.

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