Next week I will take myself over to a really techie show and cruise the aisles. I will go because I have a client in the "space", and I want to check out what's happening on the competitive front. My nametag will be clearly marked "Maureen Rogers, Marketing Consultant, Communigration, Exhibits Only." I will grab competitive literature, which is no big deal in this day and age, given that it's all online. And I will stop by booths and see if I can chat anyone up. My badge will make it clear that I'm not exactly a "live one", and if anyone asks, I'll tell them, no, I'm not interested in buying, I just have a client in your space... If they still want to talk - and I'm guessing that some will out of sheer boredom - all well and good. I may have something to relay back to my client, maybe not.
Similarly, when I download collateral from web sites, I never misrepresent who I am: I'm a zero budget, no employees, marketing consultant who is never going to make a buying decision - let alone in the next 30 days, and who doesn't make purchase decisions, anyway. If they still want to let me download the whitepaper, great. If they actually followup with a phone call, I'll think "boy, are you wasting your time," and politely tell them that I just wanted the whitepaper for market research.
My methods don't tend to yield any big secrets, but I do find stuff out this way, and sometimes just traipsing around shows (and web-sites) helps you put a few 2 and 2's together.
I was thinking of my own decidedly amateur competitive sleuthing when the "news" broke that the New England Patriots may have broken NFL rules by videotaping their opponent's coaches signaling plays during a recent game.
Now, we are hearing the outcries from the Patriot-loathing blogosphere and tabloids: Cheaters! They stole those Super Bowls! They can't win without cheating! Forfeit the game! Throw the bum - Head Coach Bill Belichick - out! (However heinous the video-taping was, it's hard not to believe that at least a tiny bit of what's being hurled now is sour grapes.)
I'm sure that more will be revealed about Video-Gate in the next few days, but it seems that the Pats have violated a league prohibition having to do with making videos during a game and bringing the videos into the locker room during half-time. (At least that's what I think the deal is.)
Belichick has said that this is a matter of interpretation of the rules - he apparently has his own - but whether he broke a rule is one thing, whether this offense constitutes real cheating is another.
Maybe I'm just morally lax, but why is it okay to observe the body language and gestures of opposing players and coaches, and figure out what they're doing next based on those observations, but not be able to do it aided and abetted by a camera?
This is not wiretapping the opposition's phones, or bugging their locker room, or paying someone to microfilm their playbook. It's just looking at the pulled earlobe and adjusted belt buckle and noting that every time that happens, there's a quarterback sneak play called.
Of course, there is a rule against it. And Belichick should have abided by it. If the rule was dumb, he should have worked to have the rule repealed. Instead, it appears that he may have taken the rule into his own hands: Stupid rule. Makes no sense. Shouldn't apply to anyone. Doesn't apply to me. To hell with it.
By all accounts, the Patriots are a very good team. (One of those accounts is mine. I'm not a particularly big NFL fan, but I've fair-weathered it over the last few years and enjoy watching the Pats (mostly) win. I do not, however, have much emotional investment in the team. I have been known to lose sleep over the Red Sox; the Pats I just shrug off.)
One of the things that no doubt makes them a good team is superior ability to anticipate what their opponents are going to do next. But if every other team is following the rule book, and the Patriots are the only ones that aren't - which is, of course, highly unlikely (Isn't it? Isn't it? Can it possibly be true that "our guys" are the only "cheaters" out there?) - they have tilted the playing field in their direction in an unsavory way.
Again, I'm puzzled about what's the difference between making a video and just being a good observer. Why is one allowed and not the other?
Of course, the real question that lurks: Why would Belichick do this? He has put his team at risk - they may lose draft picks over the incident. He has exposed his team to the trashtalk and opposing fan oppobrium they're going to have to put up with forever. He has allowed a big question-shaped cloud to start hoevering over their great victories. And he has put his own success, competence, and integrity in doubt. (Cheaterpants! Or in the case of Belichick, cheater-cut-off-sweatshirt!)
And to do it so flagrantly. The Pats were caught in the act during a Jets game. The Head Coach of the Jets was Belichick's protege for years, and there's some bad blood between them. If nothing else, the Jets Coach would have known about the Patriots' modus operandi when it came to videotaping (and have the incentive to rat Belichick out). So why in the world would Belichick do this during a Jets game?
There may be an explanation in there somewhere, but the words arrogance and hubris come to mind.
As for me, when I go to my show next week, I will not be hanging around competitors' booths recording what they say to prospects. But if someone at the table next to me at lunch starts blabbing about something interesting, I certainly won't move my chair out of hearing.
As for the Pats, whatever happens this season, there's now a taint over them that is not going anywhere.