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The power of asking hard questions

Written by Tim Benzie on 29 June 2018

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Asking hard questions about your own business isn't easy. But it's a vital capacity for innovation - and it's one that can be developed

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“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you,” wrote Joseph Heller in his seminal novel Catch-22. It’s a great one-liner but, in life and business, he touched on something true.

 

Paranoia about your company can be a positive thing. In fact, it’s how canny enterprises survive. A healthy paranoia means fretting about your marketplace. What are your current, direct competitors up to? Who might become your competitor?

 

How is technology changing the way your customers behave - and what are you doing about it? How do you respond to a disruptive business model (such as Amazon, Netflix or Uber)? The decline of the once-great Kodak due to their disastrous dismissal of digital remains a business lesson to us all.  

Think that having a positive environmental impact doesn’t relate to your product? Just wait until a competitor makes their product greener than yours, leaving you looking naïve or behind the times. If you think trends won’t affect your business, consider what one TV nature documentary has done to manufacturers of plastic straws.


 

The willingness and the capacity to ask hard but necessary questions is a characteristic that marks out many successful, innovative companies. It forms a central part of the work we conduct on the Innovate 2 Succeed programme (I2S), which is offered to eligible companies by Enterprise Europe Network.

 

The bespoke entrepreneurial coaching programme can answer questions about intellectual property, define your value proposition and test your business model – so that you can grow and expand with more confidence. It’s about making sure that companies explore all the possibilities put before them in a structured way.

 

One family-run business that went on the I2S programme had been ignoring the changes in its marketplace for years because they were so strong in their particular expertise. Their knowledge had made them blind to the wider market changes. It was a tough conversation between father and son but they have been able to adapt their technology to fit a new market.

 

Innovate 2 Succeed is a boon for companies willing to learn and brave enough to evolve – and has been established to make sure more high tech business can leap the chasm that often faces SMEs in their growing years.

It’s also about letting go of old expectations. One innovative company had been planning and hoping to access the aerospace market for their technology – but it was only one of many sectors that could benefit from their service. The I2S programme helped them analyse and assess a range of markets available to them, and as a result the company chose to avoid aerospace altogether – their time and money were better spent nurturing other sectors. It was not the answer they thought they wanted, but one that saved them time, money and reduced risk.


 

In this instance the tough question yielded an unexpected answer, but the overall question posed in I2S about your business is steeped in paranoia: “What’s keeping you up at night?”

 

Are you really as investible as you think you are? Is your business model flexible? And more importantly, are you asking the right questions in the first place? 


 

But don’t worry – just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean we’re not here to help you. Contact EEN to find out if your business is eligible for the I2S programme.