Questions

May 19, 2017

This week I was reminded of law school when I saw an article mentioning the “famously demanding questions” of law Professor Arthur R. Miller.[1] As a victim, and beneficiary, of some of those questions, I commend the author for his accuracy.

But that memory got me thinking about “push back” in competitive intelligence. You know, when someone asks you to get (develop) some information (intelligence) on a competitor, your proper response, also called the drilling down. You have to find out what decision or action hinges on getting this CI.

If a decision or an action (including the decision to do nothing) depends on this CI, then it is actionable intelligence, able to be acted on. If not, it is not actionable. Recall, that this distinction is also captured by the contrast between “need to know” and “nice to know”. You do not want to waste your time and your firm’s resources on “nice to know”.

But doing this is not always easy, particularly if the request comes from a superior, not a peer. There are several questions you can consider using or adapting to ferret out this critical information, as follows:

  • “Is there a deadline or meeting that you need this for?” That is, is this a part of something larger? What is that?
  • “Why is this a concern right now?” Or, why now? You heard a rumor? A sales rep reported losing a long-time customer? Sometimes knowing the trigger helps lead you to the CI.
  • “Has anyone else looked at this issue before? What did they find?” In other words, is this just an itch that you are scratching – again? Or did prior research come up short? Can you get a copy of it? It sometimes helps to know what was not satisfactory to do it right.
  • And my personal favorite: “Therefore what?” (A tip of the hat to said Professor Miller) Once you have this, just what are you going to do with it? What does this all mean?

[1] David Cay Johnston, “Raising the Curtain on a News Blackout”, The Quadrangle, Spring 2017, 32, 35.



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