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Making Use of Competitive Intelligence and Ingenuity

Two books urge executives to go outside?both literally and figuratively. The first focuses on the importance of competitive intelligence. The second offers ways to bring innovation to daily tasks.

Early Warning: Using Competitive Intelligence to Anticipate Market Shifts, Control Risk and Create Powerful Strategies

By Ben Gilad

Amacom, 2003, $27.95

As the pace of change in the business world accelerates, so do the associated risks. Such a cycle translates into a greater potential for surprise, something that executives should strive to avoid at all costs. Those are the premises behind Ben Gilad’s book on competitive intelligence, an effort that aims to show executives how to assess the impact of outside events on the operations of their companies.

Gilad introduces readers to his “competitive early warning system,” a process that combines competitive intelligence, strategic planning and management action. The goal of an early warning system, he says, is to identify risks and strategic missteps before they elevate into crises. The book offers checklists, quizzes, charts and anecdotes designed to help readers identify, prioritize and manage risks. There are also tips on how to take advantage of competitive opportunities, as well as caveats about benchmarking and relying on consultants. This book won’t make readers into experts on competitive intelligence, but it will put them on notice about the importance of paying attention. As Gilad points out, being a nimble competitor is a matter of constant diligence.

-Megan Santosus

Why Not? How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small

By Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres, Harvard Business School Press, 2003, $27.50

In Why Not?, authors Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres challenge readers to come up with low-tech solutions to both niggling nuisances (such as stymieing telemarketers) and major conundrums (such as preventing your home from losing value). The two men?professors of economics and law, respectively, whom you may have heard clowning around on National Public Radio’s Marketplace?maintain that innovation is a skill that can be taught, and they offer four basic tools for those who wish to learn it.

The tools are essentially four questions that people can ask when they’re faced with a problem, whether it be an inefficient business process or a way to ensure good corporate governance: How would you solve the problem if you had unlimited resources? Would different incentives solve the problem? Is there a solution to another problem that might apply to the problem you’re facing? What if you tried finding a solution, not to the problem itself, but to its reverse? The authors provide step-by-step exercises and case studies explaining how to apply each tool, as well as brainteasers that encourage readers to try out the questions for themselves. The only question left to ask yourself is, Why not give this book a try?

-Meridith Levinson

CIO Best-Seller List

5 Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market

By Eric Schlosser

Houghton Mifflin, 2003 4 24 Days: How Two Wall Street Journal Reporters Uncovered the Lies that Destroyed Faith in Corporate America

By Rebecca Smith and John R. Emshwiller

HarperCollins Publishers, 2003 3 Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable

By Seth Godin

Portfolio, 2003 2 Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

By Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

Crown Publishing Group, 2002 1 Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t

By Jim Collins

HarperCollins Publishers, 2001

SOURCE: Data for the month of September 2003, compiled by Powell’s Books, Portland, Ore.