Book review: Competitive Intelligence Advantage by Seena Sharp

Seena Sharp truly is a thought leader on Competitive Intelligence (CI) and definitely one of the best authors of this moment on the profession. She proves this with her book, Competitive Intelligence Advantage, in which she continuously stresses the importance of actionable knowledge regarding a company’s competitive landscape. She emphasizes the scope of CI and clearly explains the difference between CI and for instance market research, marketing intelligence and other related professions. By doing this she contributes to branding CI with great authority. In fact, one might even say Sharp is too keen on underlining the true nature of the profession by constantly emphasizing what Competitive Intelligence is – and is not. It is almost as if she is convinced the reader is in total disagreement. Be that as it may, the bottom line is that in the end she makes sure you agree with her.

Sharp teaches us quite some useful lessons in the course of the book. For one, she clearly demonstrates that for a proper CI system the whole competitive landscape should be watched. Not just customers (but she does mention this factor to be the first priority), especially not just competitors. All external factors that influence a company, directly or indirectly, should be considered. Other lessons include the emphasis on the present and (near) future rather than the (distant) past and the fact that if no action is taken as a result of the gathered competitive intelligence, you might as well not bother at all. Sharp offers many pearls of wisdom regarding the value of CI, if and when conducted properly.

At the halfway mark of her book, Sharp shifts the scope from ‘why’ to ‘how’. It is almost like an entirely different book from this stage on, the tone changing from a scientific lecture on the profession – thoroughly substantiated with a large number of cases (clearly displaying Sharp’s wealth of experience) – to an extremely practical how-to guide to CI (in less than a day). The wide variety of practical (but slightly incoherent) tips and tricks will certainly be of help should you be in need of it in that particular area. But it almost seems as if Sharp wants to share everything she found out about the practical side of CI, without forging it into a process structure (or any other type of structure for that matter). The chapters move from a practical questionnaire for the sake of inspiration (questions a company could ask as a starting point for CI) to a chapter about what information sources can be found and where, to yet another chapter about ethics. All very useful, no doubt about that, but in a next issue I think it would be good to structure them by means of for instance the intelligence cycle. And then, amidst the tips and tricks, Sharp suddenly shifts back to a chapter about myths (reasons why CI is not important, profitable, worth the effort, etc.), where she once again creates an opportunity to flee in explaining the ‘why’ part, because that seems to be her comfort zone.


As a relatively seasoned CI professional, I found Seena Sharp’s book, Competitive Intelligence Advantage, to be great reading material. Even if you do not (always) agree with her, it is great to match your thoughts with the broad experience and knowledge Sharp displays in her book. This makes Sharp and her book excellent sparring partners for anyone interested in CI. The first half of the book is not so much a ‘how to’ for CI. Instead, Sharp emphasizes the value of CI, focusing on the ‘why’. The second half on the other hand is a rich collection of practical, more practical and extremely practical tips for anyone practitioning CI. For me personally, the first half of the book benefited me most. Sharp helped sharpen the boundaries of my personal definition of CI. The way Sharp describes the differences between CI and related fields such as market research helped me ‘sell’ the value of CI. But more importantly, her book has been a real eye opener on several occasions. For example when she provokingly states – bluntly against the opinion of many – that competitors are the least important external factor, she triggered me to (re)think this over, and convinced me that in fact she is right about this. For opportunities come from change, not from competitors.

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