The topic was a strange verse in the Book of Genesis just prior to the creation of Adam’s wife, Eve. Genesis chapter 2 verse 18 is generally translated from the original Hebrew as follows: God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a compatible helper for him’. Two verses later (verse 20) the same idea comes up. The man named every livestock animal and bird of the sky, as well as all the wild beasts. But the man did not find a helper who was compatible for him. The Hebrew words “ezer kenegdo” are translated as compatible helper or similar variations (e.g. a suitable helper) but a more literal translation would actually be a helper against him or a helper who contradicts him / argues with him. (For linguists – ezer means “helper”, while kenegdo means “against him”)
So what does this have to do with management. The second verse quoted gives the clue – in that Adam was not actually on his own, as implied in the first verse. Adam had companions – dogs, cats, livestock, etc. However none could advise him or work with him. They were all subordinate to, and dominated by, him.
There are two types of managers
- those who seek to dominate those around them
- those who listen to, work with, and respect the opinions of those around them.
For true management and leadership success this is not enough. You also need to hear contradictory opinions and take into account the views of those who disagree with you – who are against you. From the differing opinions you can then develop a balanced viewpoint – and end up making better, more profitable decisions.
In a recent blog entry (Thinking Hats) I suggested that prior to making a decision you look at the problem from six different perspectives, with the sixth being a synthesis of the other five. The same applies to management: to manage successfully you need to consider the opinions and attitudes of those around you. You need an ezer kenegdo whose opinions are seen as equal to your own, so that you can balance your and your peers’ views when making decisions.
However this only goes as far as the planning stage. When it comes to action, you need to think as one – and act as one. There should be no scope for different people to pull in contradictory directions. Successful managers should take on board diverse viewpoints, and then come up with rational strategic or tactical decisions that bring people together; that unify the various perspectives; and that lead to coherent actions that fulfill agreed business aims and objectives.
I just read an e-mail newsletter from the headmaster of my old school – Rabbi Jeremy Rosen. Rabbi Rosen is not your typical Rabbi, and likes to challenge and get people to think. He encourages questioning at a deep level.
The Old Testament is often seen as a book of vendettas and vengeance – and compared unfavourably to the New Testament. Many of the most interesting stories are not even taught in Sunday schools, so most people – unless they read the bible – are unaware of some of the stories that appear in the bible. For example, Rabbi Rosen mentions how the book of Genesis contains the following:
- A story about a major character who puts his wife and marriage in danger – with blatant lies about her – in order to save his own skin. This happens not just once but three times;
- A story about how a lively teenager and his mother are kicked out of the biblical hero’s home into the world with no more than a day’s supplies;
- A story where the above biblical hero tells his son that they are going on a hiking holiday, when in fact the intention is to kill him;
- A story about another biblical hero who cheats his father and tells lies – in order to get his hands on the inheritance promised to his older brother;
- Stories where one child is favoured over another and stories where the hero takes advantage of their siblings;
- A story where the hero moonlights and takes advantage of his father-in-law’s capital assets;
- A story where two of the hero’s children go out of control and top the local gang (in revenge for the gang leader molesting their sister);
- A story where a major character spends the night with a call-girl who he’s picked up off the street and who turns out to be his daughter-in-law.
And this is just Genesis. There are many more stories as graphic as these and more later on in the bible. Yet – this is a source book and holy writ for Christianity and Judaism, and many of the characters and stories are also sacred to Islam and Bahaism. The characters have influenced the way we think about life, society and ethical behaviour.
So what does this all have to do with competitive intelligence. Well – one mistake that people make is to make myths out of information. They get blinded and make assumptions. They read the company histories and believe that what was written about the company history is correct – or mostly correct. But real life is not like this. People make mistakes. Things go wrong. The company founders were never the paragons that are portrayed in later company literature. Part of the role of competitor analysts is to uncover the truth, and to disperse the fog that companies like to put around their origins and history. Because the history is important in that it sets the scene for the present. The culture, strategies and vision are all products of what went before – even if the company refuses to accept this and tries to airbrush the unpleasant bits out of their collective story.
That is part of the genius that is the bible – as the bible does not run away from stories that put its heroes in a bad light. The idea is to show that even biblical heroes got it wrong and that nobody is perfect – and that we should learn from the mistakes made. If only companies did the same, and were as honest: the job of a competitor analyst would be much easier.
PS: I’ve deliberately not identified the above stories. As good information searchers it should not be too difficult to identify each. However as a seasonal competition (no prize – just the honour of getting praise) – see how many you can work out. Post the answers in the comments – or wait, and I’ll respond in a couple of weeks if people ask!
You can get tips to better practice from many sources – and one of my favourites is the Bible. There are several bible stories that convey lessons for today’s competitive intelligence professionals. One example is in the story of Noah. After the biblical flood, Noah sent out a raven and a dove to search the earth for clues that the flood had truely ended.
The story seems simple, but in fact it is not. Why couldn’t Noah just look outside and make a decision? The reason is that when he did this, all he could see was water. It wasn’t even as if he was on low ground. The bible says that the Ark came to rest on Mt Ararat which is in today’s Turkey. However Noah realised that what you see close up is not necessarily the real situation. Sometimes you need to look further afield. A colleague of mine pointed this out to me – stating that what Noah needed was an unmanned air-reconnaissance vehicle (UAV) (this colleague works for an aircraft / defence manufacturer). So Noah used birds who spied out the land. The first came back with nothing whereas the second, the dove, brought back an olive branch. So what!
It is not the evidence that counted, but the analysis. Noah had gathered information – that with the raven there was nothing to be found, whereas with the dove, there was an olive twig. The analysis showed that with the raven, the waters had not receded whereas with the dove they had.
The same lesson still applies. It is not the information that is important, but the analysis that you make based on this, turning information into intelligence and leading to operational or strategic decisions..
(At this point I can’t resist a “business” type joke: Who was the first entrepreneur in the Bible?. Answer: Noah. He floated a company when the rest of the world was under liquidation!)
In fact, it was not Noah that made me think of this theme, but an article I recently read about Bilaam and his donkey. In synagogues throughout the world, the story of Bilaam (told in the Biblical book of Numbers) will be read this Saturday. Essentially, the heathen soothsayer/prophet Bilaam was paid by King Balak to go and curse the Children of Israel (plus ça change…). On his way, an angel appeared blocking the way forward. The donkey on which Bilaam is riding sees that the way is blocked and turns aside. In response, Bilaam hits the donkey – and this happens twice. (Hence the joke that Bilaam had a stubbon ass).
At this point, the donkey spoke to Bilaam and asked Why are you hitting me? Bilaam then enters into an argument with the donkey about why it turned aside which only ends when Bilaam looks up and spots the angel.
The question is what is going on here? Bilaam is not a fool so why is he talking to animals? And why are animals talking in the first place? (The Bible is not Dr Dolittle or Babe).
The question on why the donkey was talking is relatively easy – God made the donkey talk. (God can do things like that!)
Explaining Bilaam’s response is not so easy. Here is a man who is seen as sufficiently wise that Kings are willing to pay a lot of money for his words of wisdom. Yet in the story he talks to animals and does not see anything odd or unusual in this. The answer to this problem has many lessons for contemporary competitive intelligence practice.
Every now and then, there is some intelligence that does not fit in to the general pattern of things. It is anomalous. The easiest way to treat something anomalous is to ignore it, or pretend that it does not exist. If the anomaly continues to crop up, then denial can occur in which you just accept the anomaly as a fact of life and try and live with it. In fact, rather than face up to the new situation and change direction it is often easier to keep on trying to move forward on the same path – perhaps using brute force to try and continue by increasing advertising spend, reducing prices, or other marketing equivalents. In other words, to behave like Bilaam and to keep hitting your donkey.
It is only when all these attempts fail that the company / organisation / person in denial is forced to face up to a new situation – and look up, as Bilaam did, and see the angel blocking the path.
Part of effective competitive intelligence is to keep an eye out for anomalies and new situations. They may not be part of a current key intelligence topic (or KIT), but just because they aren’t does not mean that they are not relevant or that they can be ignored. On the contrary, they should be incorporated into the current knowledge, and decisions on future actions should take them into account.
This is the lesson of Bilaam. He was in denial and refused to accept that something was wrong or odd. Rather, he incorporated the anomaly into his own world view, until it was almost too late. Only then did he look up and see that his path was blocked.
The story ends with the angel telling Bilaam that he cannot curse the Israelites – but instead should bless them. Sometimes organisations need to change direction and only then will they be able to move forward. It is often the anomalies that give the clues to such situations – rather than the routine intelligence that is collected to a schedule.
© Arthur Weiss, AWARE, 2005