Competitive Intelligence Ethics

Five misconceptions we can all learn from

Competitive intelligence (CI) is good for business, plain and simple.

Competition is a fact of life in the business world. As such, the practice of competitive intelligence has become a commonly accepted and essential part of running a successful company. No one in business questions the need to monitor the moves and strategies of rivals, to takes steps to anticipate and mitigate market threats, and to identify and seize opportunities that may come from this activity. It is only when abuses occur--Hewlett-Packard’s alleged illicit spying on its board, McLaren’s alleged theft of Ferrari’s race car technical secrets, P&G’s dumpster diving for Unilever’s secrets--that the words “intelligence,” “spying,” “privacy,” and “secrets” become jumbled indiscriminately.

Competitive intelligence is not about spying. Spying is spying and implies something deceptive, perhaps even something illegal (See our CNBC interview on the Patriots spy scandal). Competitive intelligence is about the legal, ethical pursuit of information and the analysis of that information in order to better understand today’s competitors or tomorrow’s business disruptions.

Competitive Intelligence Misconceptions

These notorious corporate spying cases highlight a number of misconceptions about competitive intelligence. At the same time, they help to illustrate the distinct difference between “spying” and the legitimate practice of competitive intelligence as it occurs in most corporations today.

  • Misconception 1: Distrust your employees first
  • Misconception 2: Everyone needs a “deep throat.
  • Misconception 3: Dumpster dive first, think second.
  • Misconception 4: Intelligence at arm’s length is good for business.
  • Misconception 5: Cowboys, cowboys everywhere!

For information on our views of competitive intelligence, we recommend you review the resources on this page, as well as other details in our CI Tools section of the website.

Ethics Resources

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