Book review of “We Never Expected That” by Avner Barnea

Barnea We Never Expected ThatIN HIS NEW BOOK, We Never Expected That: A Comparative Study of Failures in National and Business Intelligence (Lexington Books), Dr. Avner Barnea has coined two new terms in the field of strategic surprise. One is diffused surprise and the other is concentrated surprise, two terms that help us to better understand why intelligence failures occur. In a diffused surprise there is difficulty in identifying the intelligence target and therefore the chance of a surprise increases; while in a concentrated surprise the intelligence target is usually a recognized organization. At the same time, the mistake lies in the assessment of the target’s abilities and intentions.

To illustrate the difference between the types of strategic surprises in the two areas, the author analyzes these types of surprises through a discussion of four test cases. Two of them are from the field of national intelligence and two from the field of competitive intelligence. In the field of national intelligence, Barnea analyzes the surprise of the outbreak of the First Intifada (Palestinian uprising) in 1987 and the surprise of the attacks of September 11, 2001. The first Intifada was a strategic surprise for the State of Israel and broke out as a result of a popular uprising. Therefore Barnea defines it as a diffused surprise. The September 11 terror attack is defined by Barnea as a concentrated surprise, since the terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, which was known to American intelligence, initiated and carried out the terrorist attack. One of the reasons for the surprise was that the American intelligence agencies did not properly assess al Qaeda’s intentions and capabilities, nor did they share the intelligence information that had accumulated.

In competitive intelligence and the business world, units within an organization share intelligence information. One of the lessons of the September 11 surprise in the United States is that intelligence information needs to be shared between the various intelligence organizations. The test cases that Barnea discusses in the field of competitive intelligence include the process of deterioration of the IBM Corporation that almost led to its demise in 1993. This is a classic case of concentrated surprise. IBM’s board  of directors did not internalize the processes and transformations in the field of computer hardware, while competing companies like Dell, Toshiba, and others were aware of the changing needs of customers in this field and also offered customers appropriate solutions. As a result of this failure of a concentrated surprise, IBM’s revenue fell sharply and the company almost declared bankruptcy. The new CEO of IBM, who took office during the crisis, has since adapted the company to changes in the competitive environment. Read more of this post

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