Intelligent Humility
“Stark learning moments” prompt humility.

Why should you embrace humility in your intelligence work?  How might you embrace this open-minded perspective when others question your findings and opinions?

Reconverge attendees considered the advantages of “intelligent humility” as Wednesday morning’s programming continued with a thought-provoking session presented by Andrew Chernak of Deloitte, who shared with the group how intelligence pros can best manage criticism.

Deloitte is large and diverse and has many choices to make.  It has a complicated matrix of businesses—by industry, sector, original overlay, account team overlay, is comprised of member firms, and is run by partner and directors who are firm owners.

This presents choices in whom to serve and how to serve them.

Some of the options intelligence staff had pursued in serving the organization included marketing, sales, research, innovation, and strategy—all of which have their own stakeholders and perspectives.

Processes to serve them could be many.

The only constants were CI staff, their direct leaders, and principles they developed themselves based on their view about what intel functions needed to do, be, and what resources were required for success.

Central to this understanding were two things: 1) their outsider’s view—stressing independence from leadership of the firm to combat confirmation bias, and 2) a tight focus on accuracy and credibility of intelligence, particularly in human source collection, to combat rumor and conventional thinking.

How can salient perspective like these emerge and persist?

Participants made the following observations concerning making choices in serving our companies:

  • A CI function should reside separate from its own products;
  • Determine who is most engaged with intelligence function and who is most committed;
  • Customers want quantifiable business value;
  • Companies may say they want openness, but they do not want openness in public;
  • “Work strategy” early on to help determine and respond to priorities;
  • Flexibility and agility—new tactics that are emerging for some;
  • Recasting expectations for companies from “single event” interactions to “ongoing campaigns” with an intelligence function;
  • Setting priorities from a perspective of limited resources;
  • Early awareness that “impact” means different things to different audiences: tactical vs strategic, for example;
  • Internal- vs external-looking intelligence teams; and
  • Clarifying what intelligence practitioners can do for their companies.

The practice of intelligence and emphasis on defeating competition resonated with the previous experience of leadership at Deloitte.  Stakeholders were drawn in many directions, and “they were happy to get what they were given.”   Information served as a free resource to them, they consequently had less engagement.

Choices made at Deloitte had self-reinforcing results.  These questions were asked to determine priorities:

  • What is our winning aspiration?
  • Where will we play?
  • How will we win?
  • What capabilities must we have?
  • What management systems do we need?

One tip is: Be attuned to the needs beyond those specific to your stakeholders.

The conclusion Deloitte reached was to work with each other, to “pull each other along” and educate stakeholders in ways in which they should engage the intel team.  This was done through experiences to build upon the talents of the team.

Ask: Are intel teams “vending machines” or a purpose-built tool?

At Deloitte, a stark learning moment brought home the idea of humility.  Choices made by the intel function served them well in certain contexts: They could establish truth of things happening in the world.  They had expertise in “calm down” analysis.  They were good at developing long-term stories and deep reporting on big trends playing out and developing competitive scenarios.

But, the firm changed significantly, and the intel team did not see it or respond to it.  Rather, they held to their two core principles.

When accounting and regulatory issues in accounting came to the fore, the company prepared to sell the operation.  They then “pulled it back” and took some time to reintroduce the function into the firm.  New leaders were hired, and they had new priorities concerning engaging with the intelligence team–some of these priorities looked at the competitive strategy in a constructive way.

Suddenly, CI emphasis on independence and credibility did not look so much responsible as it did resistant.  The new priority to extrapolate and collaborate left the intel team unprepared to act.

“It ran us into some solid walls,” Chernack noted.

After the intel team presented their historical experiences serving Deloitte in posing trends, new leadership indicated a changed need to provide foundational, quantitative date and to position data based on primary research.  They sought performance data, financials, and like opaque data.

The intelligence team had no idea what to do in unfamiliar territory with limited data and had to ask themselves if they were comfortable presenting something that looked deterministic—they had to become storytellers based on extrapolating from known data.

The figured out how to accomplish this to some degree, and targeted the C-Suite, who seemed happy with results–and asked them to take the information to leaders in the field to use as starting points for businesses in the field—a circumstance “more challenging than expected.”

The first instinct was the opposite of humility when asked “have you taken a statistics class”—or, in other words, can you do statistical analysis?

The intel function realized this was a failure of their independence priority.  Separation from Deloitte’s business units disconnected them from important discussions occurring with business leaders, and lack of awareness to their priorities.

“These were difficult experiences” that shook the foundation of what they felt was most important to them, and what made the intel group feel “special,” and they had to deal with that.

Conference attendees shared experiences that made them rethink the way they did their jobs:

  • Focus on the external limits interactions with internal stakeholders; CI pros need to know internal needs and priorities;
  • Much time can be spent in decentralized organizations in “getting everyone on the same page” in creating a centralized function—it can be challenging to build trust;
  • Telling the truth can be difficult, even harder can be discovering how we may have “missed the mark”—largely a failure of setting expectations;
  • Company failure to maintain contact with customers;
  • Focus on delivering good information (numbers oriented) and discovered problems in communicating findings to a non-analytical group;
  • Company teams have expectations you will find specific data—learn how to manage their expectations, and how to share your work is “more art than science”;


The Deloitte intel team has reinvented themselves.  They are continuously engaging in a self-reflection process and ask if the work has value in the portfolio—or should it be changed?

They are flexible in the roles of individuals on the team, skill sets are tapped—but they ask staff to bring multiple talents to the group and draw on these varied attributes to create new operating models.  They create space for more on-point analysis for the stakeholders, which drives better two-way communication.

Consequently, they receive new invitations to new venues, and hope for ongoing, growing relationships.