Back to school!

Back To School - M-Brain

I started teaching a course on Competitive Intelligence in Metropolia Business School this fall semester. And man, what an experience it has been.

My personal history with Competitive Intelligence dates back to 2006 when I started my career as an Information Specialist, still a student at that time. The world looked quite different those days when it comes to competitive intelligence and the external business environment of any company.

Teaching competitive intelligence – nothing is as it was back in the day

The pace of change in today’s world is so fast with disruption coming from all around us. New technologies are changing and challenging whole industry value chains in practically all industries, ecosystems are being formed and new collaboration models found in places beyond the imagination. Actually the absolute definition of an industry might be misleading nowadays and misdirect the company, causing it to look at incorrect external factors when assessing risks and opportunities.

At the same time the amount of data out there has exploded – one needs to be able to absorb only the relevant information to support one’s strategy from the mess of unstructured bits and pieces that is out there, via analytics and visualization to give unstructured data some structure and via analysis techniques to give that information context and meaning and answer the “so whats” of one’s business?
At the beginning of the first lecture I actually congratulated my students for being able to attend this class, as no such class with such a broad scope of competitive and market intelligence existed when I was in school. As the need for more systematic competitive intelligence grows, I’m glad to see that the universities are staying on top of the development wave.

How does teaching support my work at M-Brain?

During my career I have attended hundreds of client meetings and spoken in a number of events on competitive and market intelligence. In my work at M-Brain I guide and coach a team of 13 highly talented analysts and consultants and attend client workshops with clients familiar with the basic concepts of market intelligence. I have also co-arranged internal training series in the form of an analyst trainee programme to interns and newcomers to M-Brain. However, teaching a course to students is a whole another story. I have attended classes before as a guest lecturer, but teaching an entire course poses its unique challenges.

First of all, I need to convey the message in a form where I build a story on how to turn data into intelligence and utilize it in the most effective way in decision making, taking into account organizational issues and decision making processes. This is because students whose practical experience in organizations overall – experience about people’s roles, culture and processes of decision making – is quite limited given the fact that they haven’t yet been extensively exposed to these issues in their work life.

Second, it’s one thing to act as a guest lecturer on a specific topic, but quite another teaching the whole course where I need to think of the storyline in terms of 12 or so three-hour lectures. How do the pieces of the puzzle fit together and form an understandable whole to the students? Obviously, one thing to consider is the grading of the students as well.

Third, the lectures are three hours each, so I need to tell the story within each lecture in a way which gets the students excited and involved, avoiding the Facebook-trap, as everyone has a smartphone with them.

My own measure of success has been exactly that – when the lecture has sparked discussions, questions and I have not seen handheld devices being used during the class, I consider the lecture a success. In reality, sometimes I’m a better lecturer, sometimes worse. It’s a fact of life. Preparation is the key. I try to be prepared each time to be at my best, but as you know, sometimes life just gets in the way.

Application of classical methods in today’s business environment?

It’s been great, having been forced to dive in many methodologies and techniques, classical as well as newer ones and having had to consider the actual added value they bring. A good summary of many of the most utilized techniques in Competitive Intelligence can be found in the second edition of “Business and Competitive Analysis – Effective Application of New and Classic Methods” (Fleisher, Bensoussan 2015). Having worked with these issues and different techniques obviously gives a good starting point, but having to teach them really made me assess the applicability and usefulness of each technique and methodology in today’s changing world. With each of the classical methods I’ve taught to the students, I’ve gone also through pitfalls and things to consider when utilizing the method in today’s business environment.

Through this process I have gotten food for thought and fresh views from students on some occasions, as they have, if not challenged me, at least been bold enough to ask hard questions that I have been forced to give well-thought answers to.

I have absolutely gotten better in the art of storytelling – conveying my message in a way that is interesting and understandable. The content is important and needs to be in order, but the way you’re able to convey your message is the make or break of teaching – and of many other things in life, now that I think of it.

To finish, I need to thank Kevin McIntire, a senior lecturer at Metropolia Business School who has helped me along the way with course materials and his thoughts on teaching. I could not have done it without his advice.

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