The Socratic method of questioning can take you out of your usual business mindset and stretch your thinking.

The Socratic method of questioning can take you out of your usual business mindset and stretch your thinking.

The business intelligence development process begins with open-ended Socratic questions, not all which need to be answered. Their purpose is to take you out of your normal business mindset. They should stretch your thinking about the outside world, where your business really exists, and about your firm’s relationship to those parts of the world from which you generate clients.

There is a caution about using business intelligence via the Socratic method, and even about market research activities in general. Beware the black hole of investigating something to death. Harvard Business School has given us a mental yardstick to use in preventing this management disease: EVPI — the expected value of perfect information. Somewhere before that EVPI saturation point, you must stop, firm up your findings, make your analysis and interpretative assumptions, and then begin making serious strategic planning decisions.

Business Intelligence Socratic Worksheet


1.       What is the purpose of this business intelligence study?

a.       To determine if we should add a core competency?

b.      To determine if we should enter a new market sector?

c.       To determine if we should exit a core competency or market sector?

d.      To explore a specific subject or issue?

e.      Or something else?

2.       What, as specifically as possible, is the name of the sector, issue, or subject being studied?

Strategic issues and questions (a first-level inquiry to become sector-sensitive)

1.       What types of projects (structures, land use planning, etc.) are typically found in this market sector?

2.       What are the governance and control entities? (Who buys and why?)

3.       What is the market size by various metrics (dollars, units, starts)?

4.       What is the sector’s posture on its life cycle (emerging, growing, maturing, declining) and what information and insight supports this estimate?

5.       What is the infrastructure of the sector or issue being studied?

a.       Main organizational entities serving entire market segment?

b.      Other organizations and associations interacting with this market?

c.       Who are the leaders (firms or organizations)?

d.      Who are the individuals recognized as leaders in these various constituencies? Where and under what conditions do they reveal their thinking?

6.       Is there a master SIC code for the sector? A cluster of sub-SIC codes under it?

7.       What research can we access or buy to obtain basic knowledge and information?

a.       U.S. government research, publications, and data (a massive inventory)?

b.      State agency/planning commission research, publications, and data?

c.       Economic development offices, agencies, chambers of commerce?

d.      Trade or professional associations and publications?

e.      Research firms specializing in trade sectors?

f.        Research firms providing electronic search capabilities and services?

g.       Universities and specialized faculty departments or units?

h.      Independent research activities (by us alone or in partnerships)?

8.       What A/E/C firms are serving this sector now? Can we somehow access them and their experiences or findings?

9.       What are the best channels through which to communicate with influencers and decision-makers in this sector or segment?

10.   What are the major conferences, conventions, or trade shows where we could interact with their sector membership organizations, members, event attendees, etc.?

11.   When and where are these assemblages? What is their attendance, and who are the attendees by position in the decision process?

12.   What are the barriers to entry, success, and profitability if we elect to enter this market sector or add this core competency to our portfolio?

a.       Product (service) differentiation?

b.      Patents and unique processes or access to same?

c.       Economies of scale?

d.      Capital requirements?

e.      People (numbers, skill sets, expertise, finding, training, keeping)?

f.        Expected time to break-even point before profitability?

g.       Client loyalty (repeat business likelihood) if successful?

h.      Governmental statutory, regulatory and environmental situation if we add a new market sector or core competency?