CIA agent-professor dispels spy myth

The words “competitive intelligence” evoke images of clandestine activities and men in dark glasses and trench coats. But for CIA officer Pamela Noe, cloak-and-dagger scenarios are restricted to spy novels.

Noe spoke to an audience of about 50 people Wednesday during a Brown Bag Lecture sponsored by the Elliott School of International Affairs.

“Competitive intelligence is a label for the application of the intelligence process to the business arena,” said Noe, who teaches two classes at GW. “It is not industrial espionage.”

The purpose of competitive intelligence is to answer the “key questions – where are we going and how do we get there,” Noe said. The concept was the brainchild of Robert Galvin, chief executive officer of Motorola, who learned the techniques while serving on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in the first Reagan administration, Noe said.

Noe said Galvin’s competitive intelligence techniques at Motorola caused the company’s profits and stock prices to increase in the late 1980s.

Every major corporation has a competitive intelligence unit in its organization. Noe said Microsoft has one of the best units in the corporate world, designed to integrate the overarching information in a cohesive way.

The main impediment to establishing competitive intelligence units in other companies is that it is “seen by a lot of the players as a threat to their domain,” Noe said.

“When organizations lose their market position, it is because their leadership does not have the information needed to make a decision,” she said.

A company’s decisionmaking process is the determining factor in whether corporate blind spots will develop, Noe said. If corporate culture and processes prevent dissenting opinions, incorrect decisions may lead to costly failures.

Noe said the automotive, aerospace and banking industries are particularly susceptible to corporate blind spot mentality.

A major problem with a company’s desire for success is increased spending on luxuries and frivolities. The mindset, Noe said, is that success becomes defined as the “nicer office with all the perks.”

The Brown Bag Lecture series is held every Wednesday in Stuart Hall room 103 from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm, the director general of the U.S. Foreign Service and a member of the University’s Board of Trustees, will speak Jan. 29 at noon in Stuart room 110 as the featured speaker in the Elliott School’s Prominent Speakers series.

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