Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Corporate Canaries: Avoid Business Disasters with a Coal Miner's Secrets

I just finished reading Corporate Canaries by Gary Sutton.  Although I was initially a little skeptical of learning business lessons from stories about working in coal mines (coal mines used to use canaries to detect poisonous gas — if the canary stopped chirping and/or died, it was time to get the hell out of the mine shaft), my mind was changed after reading the first chapter.

Sutton summarizes what the book is about very succinctly:

Corporate Canaries is the first and only book showing managers how to detect potential disasters.

There are 5 potential disaster situations that Sutton instructs managers to look out for:

  1. Losses cannot be outgrown
  2. Debt, in general, can kill a business
  3. Blindness to reality is foolish
  4. Not making a decision is worse than making one
  5. Markets evolve and death is not uncommon

You need to read the book to really understand what Sutton is talking about with regard to each of the 5 topics.

I really liked how Sutton lead off each chapter with a story about Grandpa, the coal miner — the story leads you directly into the lesson of the chapter.  However, interspersed among the coal miner stories are boxes with small, real-world examples of the very lesson that the story seeks to teach; unfortunately these small boxes are distracting and sometimes teach you the lesson in a way that makes you skip the coal miner story.  My suggestion would be to skip the boxes as you are reading the coal miner story and come back and read the boxes once you have read all about Grandpa.

It was refreshing to see a book that is this useful come in such a small package — it has been my experience that it is much easier to get managers in organizations to read books that are shorter, smaller, easier to transport, and quickly get to the point.  I agree with Sutton with this statement he makes at the very beginning of the book and admire the guarantee he makes in the same sentence:

This book will help managers detect a serious business problem, either in your company or in a competitor's within a year of reading.  If not, I will return your money plus a dollar.

This book teaches lessons with easy-to-understand stories and plain terminology (no business buzzwords) and I would highly recommend it.


Important disclosure: This book was provided to me free of charge by Universal Buzz.  Although I did not pay for the book, I have provided a completely objective review in the post above; in fact I’m probably tougher reviewing books that I receive free of charge than I am reviewing books that I pay for.


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