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Competitive Intelligence: How to Gather, Analyze and use Information to Move Your Business to the Top

  • By Larry Kahaner
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (February 11, 1998) (this refers to the paperback edition.)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684844044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684844046



– Two men in an unmarked minivan cruise Philadelphia streets tuning in cellular phone transmissions.


– A beer company analyzes wastewater pumped from a competitor’s brewery.


– A metallurgist studies the thickness of rust on railroad tracks leading from a paper mill.


– During  a company’s strategy meeting, a manager swaggers in playing the part of their competitor’s CEO. He even talks and dresses like the other man.


Welcome to the new world of competitive intelligence a world inhabited by corporate spies, former government gumshoes and hard-nosed business people looking for any angle to beat the competition — legally and ethically.


Competitive intelligence is the newest weapon in the world war of economics which pits company against company and nation against nation. As the major powers move away from traditional weapons of destruction, they move towards economic weapons like competitive intelligence to ensure their national sovereignty and survival.


Using technology and skills adapted from the Cold War era, companies worldwide are turning raw information into powerful intelligence. This intelligence can turn companies around, build market share, launch new products and destroy competitors. Kahaner’s book will give examples of competitive intelligence by large and small companies and how it was used to increase market share, profits and competitiveness.


You will learn what competitive intelligence can do for your company, how it can help you enter new businesses, learn about hidden competitors, understand your marketplace and increase the range and quality of acquisition targets.


This book will change the way managers make decisions and explain why information alone is not critical. Forget about living in the age of information. We are living in the age of intelligence, and the two are as different as success and failure.


First Pages


                    Being a Hero and Not a Bum



“What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.”



— Sun Tzu, The Art of War




While reporting for Business Week magazine in Washington during the early 1980s, I covered the telecommunications industry during its greatest time of change. There was the divestiture of AT&T, the growth of the competitive long distance industry and the upheaval that followed from burgeoning technologies like cellular phones, nationwide paging, cable TV and satellite communications. It’s only now that I realize I was one of the first people in Washington to use a cellular phone. Motorola let me try one for the day – until the batteries ran out – during their Washington, DC trial. I remember the curious looks I got from people who saw me walking down the street with this weighty, brick-shaped telephone against my ear.


It was an exciting time and one of the best parts was  getting to know many decisionmakers at innovative corporations during the course of my work.


I relished the chats I used to have with people like Bill McGowan, the late Chairman and CEO of MCI, the person responsible for much of the upheaval that I was covering. McGowan was a clear and elegant thinker, and I enjoyed talking with him. His take on subjects was often outlandish but businesslike nonetheless. He possessed the ability to see through clutter and come up with simple solutions to complex problems. It was easy to be distracted and disarmed by his eccentric, flamboyant demeanor which hid an orderly, analytical mind.


I had traveled with McGowan on the company’s jet and looked in awe at his reading pile or should I say mountain. On the seat next to him were stacks of magazines, newspapers and catalogs. There were trade magazines and industry newsletters; I expected these. But there were also things I didn’t expect like The National Enquirer, The Racing Form, J.C. Whitney (automotive) catalog, Good Housekeeping and newspapers from small towns whose names I can’t recall. The newspapers were usually only four pages long.


It was a joke in the company that McGowan traveled with two suitcases – one for his clothes and one for his reading material.


McGowan didn’t have any hobbies or interests that would account for this wide array of reading materials. In fact, he was a workaholic with little time for any outside interests beyond building his company. I was perplexed by his odd choices in reading.


I got to know McGowan better when I wrote a book about MCI called On The Line which was published in 1986. One of my reasons for writing the book was to understand how a company as small as MCI could not only beat Ma Bell, but go on to create an entire new industry. My other reason was to understand how companies compete and how the people in those companies increase their company’s competitive advantage.


After all, companies don’t compete; people in companies compete.


Journalists are lucky. We have the most latitude of almost anyone to ask questions of people at all levels of society. The questions can be simple and naive or they can be in-depth and cutting. Sometimes, they can be both.


One day I asked McGowan: “What’s the essence of your job?”


Without hesitation he said: “Making decisions. If I make the right decision, I’m a hero. If I make the wrong decision, I’m a bum.”


“How do you make decisions?”


“I gather as much information as I can, from as many places as I can, I think about it, then I decide what to do.”


That’s why he read so much of everything. It was his way of turning information into actionable intelligence.


Now, many published books and hundreds of interviews later, I still remember what McGowan said about the crux of being a manager, about making the right decisions.


The secret to business success is no secret at all.


     If you make the right decisions you will succeed. If you make the wrong decisions, you will fail.


You’ll either be a hero or a bum.


This book is about making the right decisions. It’s about a business system for making decisions that has been hidden in some companies – highly successful companies – for years because nobody wanted to talk about it openly. Why? Because others may think it’s unethical and shady.


It’s about a discipline that is growing steadily every day, but few companies want to discuss it for a different reason. They understand its power, and they don’t want their competitors to know about it.


Interestingly, though, a few companies will discuss it. They’re certain that even if others know about it, they will still perform  better. That’s the nature of this tool. The same basic techniques and information are out there for anyone to use — if they have the brains, motivation and the skills to do so.


This book is about managers having a better way to make decisions, and not having to waste enormous amounts of time, –  like McGowan did –  reading everything in sight to do so.


I will show you the new world of competitive intelligence. You will learn how companies efficiently, systematically and economically collect information, analyze it and use it to make decisions. It’s about how intelligence – not simply information as most people believe – can flow through your company for the benefit of everyone. It’s about beating your competitors both here and abroad and never being surprised or blindsided by their actions or other outside events again.


Above all, this book is about being a hero… and not being a bum.



“Kahaner offers a book that helps separate the useless from the useful… Competitive Intelligence is crammed with top companies’ entertaining intelligence-gathering and counterespionage tactics.”

USA Today


“This is book is both smart and fun.”

Fast Company


“Conversational, highly accessible style… The smart snooper’s bible.”

Publishers Weekly


“Anyone who reads this book and is not convinced of the critical importance of competitive intelligence should not occupy a position of importance in the modern business world… Required reading for everyone who has ever said: ‘Nothing goes on in this industry that I don’t already know about.’ … This is not a how-to book. Rather it is aimed at general business readers, telling them who does what and how well they do it — naming names. And therein lies its strength.”

Competitive Intelligence Review


“As the first and only guide to transforming crude business data into valuable information, Competitive Intelligence is poised to become the cutting edge tool of the nineties…”

Business Times


“… a highly entertaining and valuable account… direct approach one expects from a seasoned business writer.”

Consultants News


“…tailor made for your CEO’s bedtime reading.”


Profiles Magazine


“… recommended for upper-level business executives…”

Library Journal


“This book should appeal to a broad audience. To the novice it provides both a clear description of what competitive intelligence is as well as a description of the intelligence gathering and dissemination process. To those already acquainted with the subject of business intelligence, he describes the collection, analysis, and dissemination of competitive intelligence as well as how it is performed by competitors abroad. For both groups, Kahaner’s frequent use of detailed business examples establishes the value of understanding and utilizing competitive intelligence.”

Journal of Consumer Marketing


“The author does a good job in describing the process of competitive intelligence and makes excellent use of case studies. He does a nice job of presenting the topic as a global issue, making sure he uses examples from all around the world so that the reader gets a feel for what goes on in the international world of economics… filled with interesting and useful information for those in the business world. It may even open the eyes of some to a practice they didn’t know existed…  It might be a good idea to use this book in business schools across the United States.”

United Press International



“Politicians on both sides of the aisle have long used competitive intelligence as a key to winning elections. Now, Larry Kahaner has provided business leaders with a primer on how to use the same techniques. Competitive Intelligence is a book no ‘war room’ should be without.”

Howard Paster
Chairman and CEO, Hill and Knowlton
Former Assistant to President Clinton


“You need to know what competitors know and what they know you know. You need to know what’s in Competitive Intelligence.”

Barry Nalebuff
Milton Steinbach Professor of Strategy
Yale School of Management and author of Co-Opetition.



“Marketing intelligence — long the jealously guarded province of marketing and promotion companies — enters the public domain with Larry Kahaner’s Competitive Intelligence.”

John Zweig
CEO, Specialist Communications
WPP Group USA, Inc.


“For those business leaders challenged to excel, Kahaner explains in everyday language what competitive intelligence is, why you must have it and how to develop it.”

E. Peter Earnest
Former Director of Media Relations
Central Intelligence Agency
Association of Former Intelligence Officers


“Competitive Intelligence, like Deming’s Quality Control movement, received scant appreciation in the U.S.A. while being perfected by foreign businesses. Kahaner’s book should be required reading at America’s business schools. Without question the single best book for helping managers and executives appreciate the critical importance of CI for corporate survival and success. ”

William C. Boni
Associate Director
Information Protection Services


“This book brilliantly demonstrates the impact of competitive intelligence on revenues, and ultimately a company’s success in the marketplace.”

Svetlana Shaknes
Competitive Intelligence
American Express


Competitive Intelligence elucidates why companies need to develop effective intelligence programs — and how to do it. Highly recommended reading.”

Mark Dingle
Senior Business Consultant
Bristol-Myers Squibb


“Finally, a clearly articulated approach to analyzing the competition and a fresh perspective on investment analysis.”

Steve McMenamin
Director of Equity Research
Cantor Fitzgerald


Competitive Intelligence is essential reading for any executive who wants to thrive in today’s knowledge-driven economy. It covers all the bases in this new business discipline.”

Tim Powell
Managing Director
InfoStrat, Inc.


“Intelligence has privatized, and it is as important a part of modern business competition as it was of the Cold War’s political and military confrontation. Larry Kahaner’s book shows how the business leader can adapt its techniques to his decision making, ethically and efficiently, with plenty of pithy case histories. A must read for the modern business leader.”

William E. Colby
former CIA Director


“This book provides a detailed method to win over business competitors using information collected through legal and ethical means… information is the strongest weapon in global economic competition and national prosperity depends upon the using competitive intelligence as an effective tool for corporate strategy.” (Translated from Japanese)

Kosei Tashiro
Japan Investigative Services Association


” A first class introduction to the art and practice of competitive intelligence. Kahaner explains how firms use competitive intelligence in all aspects of business–from mergers and acquisitions to marketing– to gain real competitive advantage, and he describes the organisational system that makes it possible. The chapter on analysis alone is easily worth the price of the book.”

Douglas C. Bernhardt
Managing Consultant
Business Research Group
Geneva, Switzerland


“A key factor in improving the competitive position of the United States in the global economy will be the broader use of intelligence by the private sector. By explaining how businesses can use intelligence techniques legally and ethically Kahaner’s book makes an important contribution to our nation’s economic strength.”

Former U.S. Representative Anthony Beilenson
Chairman Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence



“Larry Kahaner turns a sea of information into a firehose of opportunity.”

Vint Cerf
The Internet Society
Senior Vice-President
MCI Telecommunications




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