Of course, I've not been running out to the bookstore to pay retail for these ... I believe this one came from that "fill a shopping bag for $5" sale a year or so back, or might have shown up at the dollar store. However, I've been interested in how interesting some of the few books I've picked up along these lines have been. Rolling it around in my mind, I think that five or six years when I refused to read any fiction may have shifted my tastes away from what I'd previously found engaging.
Anyway, for some reason, out of the vast stacks of to-be-read books sitting around here, Larry Kahaner's Competitive Intelligence: How to Gather Analyze and Use Information to Move Your Business to the Top seemed the best bet for my "transit book" this week.
As regular readers of this space will be all too aware of, one of my on-going "challenges" in the recent necessity of my acquiring most of my books from used sources is that frequently the books I'm consuming are a bit dated. This one isn't particularly old, having come out in 1996, but for a book about amassing information, that's ancient (heck, that was the same year that I put up my first website, for my old publishing house, Eschaton Books). The author spends a non-insignificant number of pages early on in this "letting the reader know" about this amazing new thing that lets you get information through the computer ... you might have heard of it, the World Wide Web.
Needless to say, 13 years up that technology curve, much of what he talks about in terms of commercial and governmental databases seems rather quaint (not that some of the corporate by-subscription resources have lost their importance for serious research) in relation to what is available to any 8-year-old today ... so many of the activity details of the book need to be taken with a grain or two of salt.
I'm not sure where exactly, the Competitive Intelligence field is these days ... I've been out of the "big corporation" game for a long time, so I've not been in situations where I'd notice a department, but either they've become so common that they go unmentioned, or that the "intelligence" function has been so broadly distributed that it no longer exists as a free-standing group reporting to the CEO.
Perhaps the most interesting, and possibly least stale, part of this book is his analysis of how various other nations have these sorts of functions organized. Many, notably Japan and France, have companies working hand-in-hand with the government, where Corp. A can actually hire the equivalent of their CIA to go get a particular piece of information ... others, like many old Soviet-bloc 3rd world countries, use their training as Soviet stand-ins to free-lance intel to the highest bidder. Of course, writing in the immediate wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, much of this was in flux ... and how could he know as he was writing this that the Clintons were actively colluding with the PRC to sell military tech for campaign contributions?
There are lots of fascinating snippets in here about places where bribery is so common (say, you're in line at the DMV, and can "tip" somebody to save an hour of waiting) that it's all a grey area when it comes to government resources, to the tales of the Japanese who'd send in 20 or so families into an Arabic-speaking nation for a 10-year posting just to get "the feel" of the culture, etc.
While most of his stories are of others stripping the USA bare, he does have some refreshing anecdotes of American companies very successfully using Competitive Intelligence in situations where they took it seriously, and were not hindered by the Government.
Given the above caveats, it's not surprising that Competitive Intelligence is no longer in print, however, it is available via the after-market, with Amazon's guys having "very good" copies for as little as 18¢ and "new" copies from $4.44 (plus shipping, of course, in both cases), should this sound like something you want to add to your mental file (and library).