In praise of ‘daft lassie’ questions

Have you ever been in a meeting where someone is using business acronyms or technical terminology, and everyone seems to know what it means except you? I certainly have. What do you do in that situation?

What are they talking about?
  1. Nod in apparent agreement and make notes, whilst trying to figure out what they mean
  2. Doodle whilst your mind wanders randomly though other topics, like when are they going to break for lunch, or why is there a picture of a worried dog on the screen
  3. Bravely put your hand up, admit you don’t understand and ask for clarification.

If you answered 3, well done. Not only will you be in a much better place to make a valid contribution to the meeting, but I guarantee you that several people will come up to you afterwards and quietly thank you for asking, as they didn’t understand either.

The daft lassie (or laddie) question isn’t just about admitting you don’t know something in a meeting, however valuable that might be in increasing your understanding of a subject. It also has a very important role to play in developing a robust business strategy, and so the ability to ask them is a very useful skill.

The art of ‘daft lassie’ strategic questioning

Creating a business strategy is an all-consuming task, whether it is for launching a new business or exploring new opportunities for an existing business. After spending many weeks on the plan, it’s likely to be very detailed and every aspect will be familiar to you. At this stage, it is important to step back and take a look at the whole plan with fresh eyes. What questions would you expect to be asked? Be honest with yourself about what assumptions you have made along the way, and how many of these assumptions you have incorporated into your plan without fully understanding the implications. Before you take your plan to your potential investors, you should ask one or two people you trust to review your proposition. This could be a non-executive Board member or an honest and forthright advisor.

In order to challenge your assumptions and stress test your plan, a good assessor will put any prior knowledge aside and ask you lots of questions, never assuming anything that is not explicitly explained in your plan. It can be particularly useful to involve someone who may not be fully cognisant of your sector but knows what makes a robust and effective strategic plan. They tend to ask the best ‘daft lassie/laddie’ questions and can expose the technical language that you may have used that could make your strategy harder for a potential funder or new business partner to understand.

What, why, who, where, how, when?

If you can answer all of their questions, well done. It is much more likely, however, that the questioning will have unearthed details or opportunities that you had not already considered. If so, what assumptions did you make that need to be backed up with additional information? Do you need to undertake some more technical or market research or can you test the market with your first prototype product or service?

Now revisit your plan and take a final opportunity to improve the clarity of your strategy. Strip out unnecessary jargon and make sure you explain any remaining technical terminology and methodology. Above all, make sure you have not overlooked the basics of what problem you are solving, and for whom.

Top tips for building a network

Please can I talk to you?

It can be very daunting to start to build up a business network, but it is one of the most valuable things that you can do when starting out in a new venture and throughout your career, so it is well worth the time and effort.

These are some of my top tips:

  • respect the other person’s time – this is the #1 rule
    • be clear about what you are asking for and be prepared to accept a ‘no’
  • be yourself, people appreciate authenticity
  • think about what you can offer in return
    • you might be able to make a useful introduction
    • you may be able to collaborate or send work their way
    • a genuine ‘thank you’ may suffice, as people often just like to help
  • at in person events, making a personal connection is key
    • develop a short ‘elevator pitch’ to introduce yourself
    • get to know the person and their interests
    • don’t dive in with your request, follow up after the event
  • if approaching people ‘cold’ via email, LinkedIn etc, explain how you heard about them, and be clear about why you think they can help you
  • influential people get a lot of requests so keep your message brief and be realistic
    • e.g. ask for advice or feedback, or to pass on your request to someone in their team but don’t ask for introductions when they don’t know you
    • often the most influential person in a business is the PA, so treat them with respect (treat everyone with respect)
  • finally, remember the #1 rule.