A Little Leaguer Takes Notes
a Career in Intelligence is Born
by Paul Houston, RivalScape founder
spent my first 18 years of life 30 miles north of Manhattan in
the little town of Pearl River in Rockland County, New York. Perhaps
you know where that is. I'd like to tell
you a true story that happened in Pearl River when I was 11 years-old,
a story that reveals a basic insight into the philosophical framework
underpinning Workforce Competitive Intelligence™ and the work
we do at RivalScape Intelligence Consultants. It's
also the tale of how I discovered the art and science of competitive
Grampa shows me a new set of tools
I was a pretty good Little League baseball player,
a pitcher mostly, in a very competitive league. I was a decent
little athlete, but certainly not a great one. In other words,
I needed an information advantage to give me an edge.
Fortunately, my grandfather
was a great baseball strategist and had taught me to be a student
of the game. He showed me the fine points of keeping a good scorecard
and he also tested me on various situations while we were watching
Yankee games together. Why did the manager do that? What would
I have done in the same situation? So I guess you could say that
I knew the game very well for an 11-year old.
Grampa was visiting
one summer and I was telling him about my Little League team and
how we wanted to win the championship but we were up against some
He said, "Wait a minute,
you aren't playing
tonight, but your competitors, you know, some of those tough teams
been telling me about, aren't they playing tonight down at
I nodded, he responded, "Well, then
what are doing sitting here dreaming and talking about winning
when you can be down at the ballpark learning everything you can
learn about your opponents? Then you can use what you learn against
them when you play them!"
Gotta have a plan
said, "Wow, that's
a great idea, Grampa, I never thought of that. I'm leaving
"Wait a minute," he responded, "not
so fast. Two things. First, you need to take notes or you'll
forget some of the key points you observe. Second, you need to
have a plan for what you want to observe. Some details in baseball
are more important than others, right?" I grabbed a pencil
and a notebook.
carefully went over what I wanted to collect on each team I
would study. Then he said, "Oh yeah, one last
thing, see if you can figure out their signals while you're
at it. That worked for me 50 years ago, because the coaches never
changed their signals since the kids would get all confused."
within a few weeks I literally "wrote the book" on
each team in the league. All I did was sit unobtrusively in the
bleachers and take notes. I just watched and learned.
Putting my observations to good use
whether corporate, government or Little League, should have practical
value. In modern business lingo, it should be actionable.
was able to put much of my learning to immediate use. For instance,
in one game, while pitching with a runner on first and no outs,
I glanced over at the opposing manager and caught the steal signal
being put on — the same steal sign I saw him give three or
four times before when I was watching from the stands! It was exciting
and gratifying to know in advance that the runner would be going.
I picked him off base quite easily, not because I had a great pickoff
move, but because I had actionable intelligence to work with.
was another game where a certain runner reached first. I had observed
this guy's base running tactics over several games
and made a mental note of it for future use. He loved to catch
the pitcher napping, foot off the rubber, usually walking around
in front of the mound, and not paying attention to him. This runner
was incredibly fast and would take off like greased lightning to
second. By the time the hapless pitcher had noticed and made a
frantic throw, it was too late to catch him.
You know the rest of
this story. I had alerted my shortstop to be ready for a throw
if this guy got on base. Then I pretended to be napping in front
of the mound, all the time keeping him just inside the very edge
of my peripheral vision. He took off and we caught him at second
by a good ten feet.
never forget how gratifying it felt to see the fruits of my competitive
learning pay off in tangible ways like they did in those two
examples. Those were probably the moments when my destiny was
cast to become a Naval Intelligence Officer and later a corporate
I digress. Back to the 11-year-old "Little League
Intelligence Officer." I made a big mistake.
Did I do something wrong??
mistake I made was proudly walking up to my manager just before
the league playoffs started, handing him the little black book,
and saying, "Hey
Coach, I've got it all here and I can brief
you on it, everything about our opponents. I've even got
their signals down. I got it by studying them most of the season
been using it the last few games!"
said, "That is
the worst example of sportsmanship I have ever seen! I don't
want to touch that book, put it away and just go out there and
play the game already!!"
I was crushed and confused. What had I
done wrong? I had just sat there in plain view, in public, observing
what was happening, taking
notes and thinking. I hadn't pretended to be something I
I hadn't tapped the other coaches telephone calls when they
were talking about their game plan. I hadn't "dumpster
dived" to find their notes. I had simply watched and learned
from publicly available sources. Certainly what is happening on
a public baseball field in plain view is public information.
my coach says "just go out there and play the game already!" I
have to admit it was a discouraging moment. But, all in all, it
was a great experience and it gave me a story that I could never
have dreamed up.
From a Little League field to the executive suite
thing is, this story applies to many corporations. Like my coach,
some may think that learning by watching and thinking isn't
fair. And like Little League coaches and players in general, relatively
few companies take advantage of competitive intelligence, let alone
of Workforce Competitive Intelligence™. Our mission at RivalScape
is to change that.
Another essential point: Corporate intelligence
can all be done morally, legally and ethically. If you question
that statement, hold an image firmly in your mind of an 11-year-old
boy sitting in the Little League stands watching, thinking, learning,
and then applying his knowledge. Did I do anything unethical?
plan as a Little League pitcher was to win the game, and that base
runner from the other team who had the steal signal on was trying
to turn my plan upside down. Because I had done my competitive
homework, fair and square, I was able to thwart him.
take a huge competitive advantage to win, just a decisive one.
Most of the other pitchers in the league would have been caught
by surprise, and the stealing attempt most likely would have been
successful. Instead of one out and nobody on, like I achieved from
using my actionable intelligence, they would have had a runner
in scoring position with no outs. Not good if your goal is to win
a tough game.
I'm guessing that your business plan calls for
winning some pretty competitive games too. And I'll bet you
like surprises any more than I do.