Competitive Intelligence Strategic Foresight
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Member Intel Q&A - Jonathan Calof

Jonathan Calof

Dr. Calof is recognized as one of the leaders in intelligence and foresight. A professor of International Business and Strategy at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, Dr. Calof combines research and consulting in competitive intelligence, technical foresight and business analytics to help organizations develop key insights on their competitive environment. We recently spoke with Jonathan about the moment he discovered competitive intelligence really was a field, the importance of putting the customer at the center of your intelligence strategy, and why, when in doubt, we should just "ask Lois".


Members - click here to read Jonathan's latest article for SCIP, Working with Friendlies at Trade Shows – Broadening your Event Intelligence Reach.



"Intelligence helps us understand what our organizations need to do to make the customer better off. It's not about giving the customer what they ask for. It's understanding what they need and how this is evolving."

Tell us about yourself.

I am a professor at the University of Ottawa where I specialize in strategy and competitive intelligence. Not only do I get to mold young (and not so young) minds, each year I get to take a group of executive MBA students on an international competitive intelligence related project that results in significant business opportunities generated for several Canadian companies. I also have honorary positions around the world that give me the joy to work with wonderful students and colleagues in many places. Spreading CI to students and organizations around the world is my passion.


What was the reason that you got into intelligence?

I'd like to say that intelligence got me into intelligence but unfortunately, that is not the case! I had been doing a lot of work on how companies make their international decisions and was asked to develop a seminar around the information needs of Canadian companies for the Canadian diplomatic service, Foreign Affairs Canada. While I was developing the seminar, one of the Department officials said "You're really teaching them about and doing research in competitive intelligence." I had the normal knee jerk reaction and said, “No, I'm not teaching them to spy. I'm teaching them about figuring out what information is needed and how to get it”. The official then handed me Leonard Fuld’s book on competitive intelligence and told me to read it. After reading it I went "Holy crap, THIS is competitive intelligence, and I've been doing this all along!"  The book and then subsequent material about CI showed me that while I was not doing a bad job on “competitive intelligence”, there was a formal field about it and materials that would help me do it a lot better. That was in 1992 and after that not only did I read a lot more about it but was so committed that I participated in the opening of many SCIP chapters around the world. 


What's been the best piece of career advice that you've received? 
The only person for whom first impressions truly matters is con-artists. So don't fall for first impressions. Everyone you meet has value and your job is to figure out what that value is.


What's a business or academic book you recommend?
The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. We even got to hear Clayton speak many years ago at a SCIP conference.


Competitive intelligence, while important, is just one piece of the puzzle. What advice do you have for taking a more holistic, expansive view of intelligence?
It all starts with the customer. It is the customer that decides whether you will win or lose. It is the customer who decides if something is truly innovative or disruptive. So when you view intelligence think about what does my organization have to do to make the customer better off. This is not about giving the customer what they ask for but understanding what they need and how this is evolving. If you want to read more on this, read about the Canadian study that looked at the death of Nortel, the biggest company in Canadian history.


How do you see CI evolving over the next 5 years?  What skills will be important?
As the world becomes more open in terms of information availability and willingness to share information, and at the same time becomes more competitive and fast moving, we need to become better at both finding the people to share information with and finding tools to address all this information. Artificial intelligence and software in general will become more important, which means knowing about these tools will be an important skill. But, human to human contact, networking and in particular the ability to cultivate and evaluate appropriate sources will grow in importance. For more on this, see the open intelligence article written by Paul Santilli (SCIP Chair), Greg Richards and me in Competitive Intelligence Magazine.


"As the world becomes more competitive and fast moving, we need to become better at both finding the people to share information with and finding tools to address all this information."



What's a productivity tip or lifehack that you use often?
At the risk of being accused of being sappy, my lifehack is called “ask Lois”. For those who know me, you'll recognize that Lois is my wife and life partner. She makes my life easy in so many ways as I am on the road a lot. Pick your life partner well and it truly is a lifehack.


How has SCIP helped your career?
I have been a proud and committed member of SCIP since the early 1990’s. SCIP’s role in helping both me specifically and academe in general has been extraordinary. From partnering with academics to help us deliver better CI courses that help to train tomorrow's CI users and developers to providing invaluable assistance in our research programs, SCIP has been there through the years as a partner. SCIP staff in particular have been extraordinary not only providing this help but also actively reaching out to ask how they can help. SCIP has also helped me by developing through their various publications a wealth of information that I can share with my students to help educate them to what ethically, properly done CI truly is. There is another huge benefit that I have got through my involvement in SCIP. Through SCIP conferences and the membership directory I have met many many wonderful people around the world. In almost every country I go to there is a SCIP member that I can reach out to even if only for a drink or two when I am in that country and I count many SCIP members (current and past) as being amongst my closest friends. SCIP provides a great opportunity for anyone who wants to develop CI knowledge, skills and network and without this, this small town Ottawa Canada professor would have had a rough time developing a competitive intelligence life.


Get involved 

One of greatest values of SCIP is the power of our member community. The experience, knowledge, and intellect of our members are unparalleled. To build off these strengths, SCIP is launching a program to highlight our members and the great work that they do. Are you interested in sharing your story? Please contact us to nominate yourself or a colleague.





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