Leadership

Editor's Note: Get Smart With a Spy's Help

By /
Nov 15, 2013

The value of intelligence gathering in the business world. (Think spies.)

Have you ever met a real, bona fide, in-the-shadows spy? If not, allow me to introduce you to Peter Earnest. You’ll find him in this issue.

Earnest is a one-time CIA operative who has taken his intel expertise to the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, where he currently serves as CEO. He debriefed our books editor, Kristin Clarke, on all the ways in which intelligence gathering in international clandestine work can be translated to the business world. Some of it may strike you as a little shady (eavesdropping in a bathroom stall, anyone?), but ultimately, gathering business intelligence from the world around you comes down to one simple technique: deliberate, active listening.

It’s not very sexy or high-tech. Even the bumbling Maxwell Smart—the beloved Agent 86 of 1960s “Get Smart” fame—had his shoe phone and his Cone of Silence. And in the age of

digital snooping by everyone from the NSA to Facebook, it’s clear that “listening” these days means a lot more than tilting your ear in the direction of an interesting conversation.

But, as Earnest and the association executives in Clarke’s story reveal, low tech is highly effective. It’s really about paying attention to your surroundings—in your office, at your conferences, and during your travels. For me, it means being aware of changes in the media landscape, noticing the tools and tactics that other media brands (association or for-profit) are using, and making sure I’m registering the smart things that my crackerjack ASAE colleagues and people in the wider world are saying. I’ve got to get better at it,

and I bet you do, too.

How to go about it? I’m no snitch. Turn to page 54 to gather that intel.

Julie Shoop

Julie Shoop is the Editor-in-Chief of Associations Now. More »

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