Very Short and Very Sweet

It's only 140 undersize pages long. And it only takes an hour or so to read cover-to-cover. But the point is actually in the re-reading, as I see it. Maybe once a month? At least!

The slim volume, Corporate Canaries,* claims, perhaps correctly, to be alone as a biz book about ... defense. The author's overarching point: "The Big Lesson: Defense Matters." (*Why "canaries"? Recall that canaries were placed in mines to be the harbingers of escaping poison gas—the end to the canary's song would alert miners to problems of the worst sort.)

Turnaround exec (and what a record!) Gary Sutton laments the fact that almost every management book is about offense—e.g., searching for excellence (no, he didn't mention my book—but he well might have). Nothing wrong with offense or excellence, per Sutton, but bad things do happen to good people all the damn time. And you've got to do the right thing when the yoghurt hits the fan or threatens to hit the fan—and indeed you must expect said yoghurt to occasionally or more than occasionally to hit the fan. Message: On guard!

There are parables and such, but the bedrock notions are simple, profound, frequently ignored—and use-able starting today. There are just 5 key ideas. The first, "You can't outgrow losses." E.g.: "New business is a great thing, an important thing, and critical for success. But trying to sell your way out of profit problems only magnifies the trouble. Fix profits first. Then add business." Margin (profit) problems won't be solved by selling more low-margin, no-margin stuff. The malaise, "trying to sell your way out of losses," Sutton claims, "is the most common cause of business failure." (Yikes, does that strike—again and again—close to home.)

Another of the Big 5 is, "Any decision beats no decision." Sutton offers this example: "When Microsoft decided online computing was real, Bill Gates refused to talk with employees for three months unless they prefaced the conversation, about anything, by explaining how it related to the Internet. That's focus. No waffling. And the company immediately shifted direction." I.e., if you've got a problem or incipient problem, don't screw around and around doing analysis aimed at producing the "perfect answer"—just get the hell on with something, anything directly & unmistakably related to the issue at hand.

The last Big Point is: "Markets grow and markets die." I.e., eventually ... shit happens. Don't imagine you can avoid it.

Longtime Editor of the Wall Street Journal, Bob Bartley, blurbed the book this way: "If managers could read only one book, this would be it." Frankly, I'm not sure that's hype. Neither is this: Run, don't walk, to Amazon or wherever to get this book. Then keep it at hand. Close at hand.

(Canaries applies to GM ... and a new one-person business ... equally.)