You hardly have to join the CIA to become tell spy. In fact, these things are going on in all aspects of our overall society where people are using human intelligence gathering to get a leg up on their competition, whether it be in foreign negotiation, military effort, law enforcement investigation, or even in the modern day corporation.
If you are in business you need to keep quite a bit of information very close to the best, meanwhile you want the information about your competitors to flow into your hand. Information as it has been said is much like water, it wants to be free, it wants to flow, and more often than not it has a life of its own. In fact, if you have a few moments I would like to discuss this with you.
You see, there is a very good book that I own on intelligence and information gathering for businesses and corporations. Regardless of the size of your business you can use these techniques to help get a leg up on the competition, and stay ahead of the game. You'll also learn how to prevent information leakage from your organization. The name of the book is;
"Confidential - Uncover Your Competitors' Top Business Secrets Legally and Quickly - and Protect Your Own," by John Nolan, Harper Business Publishers, New York, NY, 1999, 385 pages, ISBN: 978-00666-1984-2.
The author suggests "using a well-planned conversation" to suck out information from competitors. Some of the best sources of information are employees of other companies, newsletters, their marketing material, interviews they give, as well as their vendors and customers. You might also look into their factory workers, sales and marketing teams, minor government employees the do regulatory enforcement, and believe it or not the law firm or lawyers they hire who are busy bragging about their list of clients.
None of this is illegal, and if you aren't doing it, perhaps you should, because your competitors are doing it to you whether you realize it or not. No, most aren't that sophisticated, but many are. And they spend time doing this sort of information gathering. The authors also get into the tactics to keep your competition from stealing your information using social engineering strategies and leading a conversation to their benefit of information gathering.
You might be surprised at fact that the most important information about your competitors whether large or small is some of the easiest to get using simple strategies and tactics. In fact, the authors have a 12 step strategy to getting that information flow through casual conversations. They suggest provocative statements, trading information, simple flattery, and using the instinct to complain to your advantage.
In the category of manipulating conversations they explain how word phrase repetition helps very well, and quoting facts and reports, or even giving criticism allowing the other party to deny, defeat, or help you get to the truth of that criticism. Another strategy is to use incorrect