As a consultant, I have the opportunity to interact with people in a range of industries. Since I work primarily in the innovation and product/process improvement space, I don't claim to be an expert in any particular industries. My value add is bringing new tools and new perspectives, plus the experience of knowing what works, and what doesn't work, to my clients.
I like, however, to be informed about what is going on in the industries I happen to be working in, so I usually set up a Google Alert with key words about the industies where I am working. I also follow blogs that seem interesting or influential, and track the twitter-rati in the specific spaces where I am actively working. This helps me understand the current issues and new ideas in the markets where my customers live every day.
So it comes as a real shock to me almost every time I speak with my customers that they have very little knowledge of their own industries outside of a very narrowly framed perspective. If I interact with a senior product manager, he or she may know a great deal about the immediate competitors, but virtually nothing about new startups or firms in adjacent industries that are seeking to enter the space. Recently I held a training session with a number of bankers. Over 70% of the people we talked to were unfamiliar with Mint.com, the fastest growing financial website on the web, and just recently acquired in a major acquisition by Intuit. That wasn't difficult information to find, and the trends demonstrated by Mint and other web-based financial management tools have a huge impact on the bankers. Yet they were blissfully unaware. However, this lack of foresight and exploration isn't limited to bankers, I've found it to be the case in just about every industry I work in.
Most people in an organization do a good job of reading the trade rags for the industry - the "approved" voices. In banking that's American Banker, and every industry has it's own Gray Lady. However, for most people that's where the reading and scanning ends. There's little reading in contrarian magazines or blogs, and very little interaction with social media. Reading about issues and emerging threats in adjacent industries or market spaces is apparently as common as reading Beowulf in the original. Yet most competitive threats come from adjacent markets or new entrants to existing spaces.
Why is there such a lack of interest in what's happening in the market? I don't understand if it is a lack of interest or passion, or a helplessness that's brought on by the feeling that one couldn't do anything about a new discovery anyway. Some of the easiest market intelligence and evidence of trends is developed and presented to you every day. How are you using it? Do you have your blinkers tightly adjusted, or can you pick your head up and see what's going on all around you?