Kenneth G. McGee doesn't believe in business surprises. There is always warning of a profit shortfall or other event, maintains the Gartner Inc. analyst, basing his claim on studies of numerous disasters in and out of business. In Heads Up: How to Anticipate Business Surprises and Seize Opportunities First (HBS Press, $29.95), McGee analyzes events ranging from the 9/11 attacks to the WorldCom accounting scandal and shows how available information could have been used to "predict the present" and avoid the subsequent debacles. Predicting the present can also help you exploit opportunities, he adds.
Whether avoiding trouble or seeking growth, start predicting the present by identifying your largest contributors to revenues and costs. Pick out the information most relevant to those activities. Then make sure decision-makers have the information and act on it. The approach need not be complicated. McGee describes a home builder who found that many extra costs stemmed from poor coordination of subcontractor visits to construction sites. Using a simple, centralized system for scheduling subcontractors, the company cut the time required to build a home, increased per-home profits, and freed additional working capital for growth.
Force of Habit
"Throughout history, great leaders have surrounded themselves with advisors, mentors, intellectual sparring partners and confidants," Saj-nicole A. Joni says in The Third Opinion: How Successful Leaders Use Outside Insight to Create Superior Results (Portfolio, $25.95). The management consultant says entrepreneurs who want to do likewise need to develop three habits. First, think expansively when considering problems. Second, find and develop people outside the company you can turn to for advice. Finally, apply the first two habits to those nonurgent, but essential, issues that are hard to spot but vital for success.
Mark Henricks is Entrepreneur's "Smart Moves" columnist.