Improve your intelligence gathering in 5 steps

Educating yourself, increasing your knowledge, recognising the latest trends and, more generally, cultivating curiosity are all skills that can be honed by daily intelligence gathering. There are numerous benefits and it is hard to ignore if you are working in the service, technology or engineering sectors, whatever your business.  

Improving your intelligence gathering means:

  • Obtaining the right information  
  • Ensuring the validity of information received on a daily basis 
  • Mixing your sources 
  • Obtaining the contextual details needed to understand a subject, a sector, a technology, etc. 

Here are the 5 key steps for personal intelligence gathering using your preferred device… and ultimately helping you to be curious and disciplined! 

Step 1: Be equipped 

First and foremost, it is important to have a number of tools at your disposal.  Test a few of them. If you feel that certain functionalities are essential and you need to pay for a tool, go ahead and invest a minimum amount (it’s up to you to decide on the budget for this, based on the time devoted to and importance of your intelligence gathering). Adapt them to your situation and opt for multi-platform versions that sync between, at least, your mobile and desktop.  From there, start by carefully choosing:  

  • A tool for browsing and aggregating all your sources.  

The RSS feed reader of your choice is a good basis and offers the advantage of combining the maximum possible number of sources for broad consultation. Despite the disappearance of Google Reader, there are still numerous platforms available on the market (thin clients or web interfaces). 

Treat this tool as your aggregator. Some of these tools don't just work with RSS feeds, but also allow you to browse other kinds of sources (social networks, newsletters, etc.) such as FlipBoard or Refind.   Personally, I have remained loyal to Feedly, but it’s up to you to decide which one may be suitable for you. 

  • A tool for aggregating and retaining all your chosen resources  

This is in some respects “your reading library”, into which all your selections from different sources are fed.   Everything that interests you or deserves future attention, more detailed consultation and reading, should land here. Here too, there are numerous tools, but opt for those that can open themselves up to the maximum number of platforms and receive information from diverse sources.   For me, after having used Evernote for a very long time, the perfect tool is Pocket.   Having made your choice, do not divide your attention further and stick to these 2 tools.  

Step 2: Source 

Select your sources and categorise: This is the most important step and the most time-consuming, but it is essential.  Tailor this step to your situation, your environment and, ultimately, your curiosity…   To do this, take the time to analyse, examine and pick out the websites, blogs and platforms that you read most and incorporate them into your aggregator.   Finally, set yourself a maximum number of sources per category and cull them regularly, based on their quality. Do not retain unnecessary sources. 

Step 3: Automate 

Still on the subject of tools (coming back to them):   Platforms such as Zapier or IFTT allow you to create rules between your two main tools (and others). For example, if you like an article appearing in Feedly or on Twitter, it is very easy to create a rule using these tools for it to be automatically placed in your Pocket.   Don't hesitate to make the most of these platforms, they will allow you to add to or screen your resource library more quickly and easily.   

Step 4: Be disciplined 

The most important aspect in improving your intelligence gathering is to do it regularly. Establish a habit and stick to a chosen slot.  First, set a time, however short this may be (allow 30 minutes). Set this time aside every day (or whenever you want to/are able to - ideally this should be daily).   Now divide this time in 2:  

  • Stage one: perform a quick selection in your aggregator(s). 

The aim is to work relatively quickly at this stage, by grabbing every item that attracts your attention and placing it in your second “library” tool. There is no need to take the time to go into the details of the resource, save time at this stage by establishing an overview that is as complete as possible (hence the importance of categorising your sources). 

  • Stage two: browse through and read your selection. 

Now you should take the time to browse. As maintaining your attention in front of a screen is potentially difficult, take the time to read/watch/listen to what you have selected and stay focussed on it. And lastly, cull… Retain a reasonable number of resources in your library. Usually, your library should fill up quite quickly, so don’t hesitate to dip into it when you have a spare minute.  Switch between browsing, reading and screening within your identified time slots, ensuring that you routinely keep these times to a minimum. 

Step 5: Diversify 

In conclusion, do not allow all these tools to be your only intelligence gathering option  Continue to use your social networks and incorporate them into your intelligence gathering. Newsletters have also experienced a resurgence over the past few years, consider using them, but be careful, this diversification could make added demands on your browsing time.  And finally, for truly effective intelligence gathering, step away from your computer, meet other people, attend events, conferences, workshops, etc. and critically examine your sources and methods.