by Thomas Sullivan
Loyalty expert James Kane gave a remarkable talk on the last day of the SLA 2011 in Philadelphia. He emphasized how essential it is for SLA members to build strong relationships with the people who use the information we find.
Mr. Kane took this a step further: He said that we have the strongest relationships with people who understand us. And if we really understand what information users want – including needs they haven’t articulated – we can become deeply valued partners. Mr. Kane said, “You become valuable when you anticipate the needs” of those we work with.
Author Gary Klein offers a great example of how anticipating needs pays huge dividends in his 2009 book, Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making. Mr. Klein describes how, during World War II, a U.S. Navy Captain was studying intercepted Japanese messages, trying to understand where Japan would attack next.
Capt. Rochefort noted that one location, “AF,” was appearing frequently in Japanese messages, and suspected that AF was the next place Japan’s armed forces would strike. But what was AF? Capt. Rochefort had a hunch that AF was Midway Atoll. To test his theory, he arranged for the U.S. base on Midway to broadcast an un-encrypted message stating that the garrison’s water-distillation plant was malfunctioning. Two days later, U.S. forces intercepted a Japanese message that the AF base was having problems with producing drinking water.
Armed with this information, the U.S. Navy moved quickly to bolster Midway’s defenses, and inflicted a major defeat on Japan, a turning point in the war in the Pacific.
Mr. Klein writes: “Rochefort wasn’t waiting for the data to come to him. He wasn’t seeing his job as simply deciphering Japanese messages. His job was to figure out what [Japanese Admiral] Yamamoto was planning.”
Thomas D. Sullivan is a business researcher based in New York who is looking for new professional opportunities. He has researched companies and industries in manufacturing, energy, transport for firms including Morgan Stanley, Ernst & Young, and JPMorgan. He earned an MLS from Queens College CUNY, and a BA in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, and can be reached email@example.com.