Heads Up: Using Real-Time Business Information to Know First and Act Faster


Don't Prepare for Uncertainty-Drive It Out

From "unexpected" earnings results to missed market opportunities to product launch disasters, we've come to accept uncertainty as an unavoidable fact of business life. But Kenneth G. McGee argues that even the worst business surprises rarely happen without warning-and that a few vital pieces of information can make all the difference in whether an event spells disaster, or opportunity.

In Heads Up, ...

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Don't Prepare for Uncertainty-Drive It Out

From "unexpected" earnings results to missed market opportunities to product launch disasters, we've come to accept uncertainty as an unavoidable fact of business life. But Kenneth G. McGee argues that even the worst business surprises rarely happen without warning-and that a few vital pieces of information can make all the difference in whether an event spells disaster, or opportunity.

In Heads Up, McGee explains that success is not about predicting the future, but about obtaining the right information at the right time to effectively understand the present. Based on exclusive research into recent business catastrophes-and drawing parallels to a range of nonbusiness disasters from 9/11 to the Challenger disaster-Heads Up outlines a four-step approach managers can use to identify which pieces of information merit real-time delivery, and, as important, which do not.

McGee provides a practical methodology-real-time opportunity detection-for monitoring, analyzing, and responding to that critical information in time to ward off negative surprises and jump on potential opportunities ahead of competitors.

Putting the power of informed decision-making in every manager's hands, Heads Up shows how a little knowledge can go a long way toward building a profitable real-time enterprise.

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Editorial Reviews

Soundview Executive Book Summaries
According to Kenneth G. McGee, a group vice president and research fellow at the research and advisory firm Gartner Inc., even the worst business catastrophes rarely happen without warning. In Heads Up, McGee describes how managers can break the pervasive pattern of surprises that are often followed by desperate responses. Instead of trying to predict the future, McGee explains, managers need to master predicting the present - understanding what is happening right now and how these current events and outcomes will impact future success. The result: Potential disasters are turned into opportunities.

Heads Up is about predicting the present. Predicting the present means taking raw empirical information, analyzing it, and determining its meaning and implications. However, managers don't need to know all the operational data to understand what the present situation is. Predicting the present is gathering enough information to answer the question, "Where are we right now in meeting our corporate goals?"

By recognizing that there is always warning, and therefore monitoring progress on a daily basis, managers can turn what would have been surprises into a whole new world of opportunity.

In the hands of a capable manager, current information about the state of the business always shows opportunities to improve good results or, at a minimum, to act to mitigate the impact of poor results. Therefore:

  1. If you acquire the ability to capture, receive, monitor and analyze information about certain events, when those events occur, you can predict the present.
  2. If you predict the present and identify the always-present early warnings of difficulties or successes, you will have identified an opportunity for better performance.
  3. If you take effective action based on these opportunities, you will be engaged in real-time opportunity detection.

Real-time information is valuable because it gives the manager the most possible response options. Response options are actions that may be taken to mitigate the negative impacts or accentuate the positive aspects of an event before the impact of the event is felt. For example, if sales volumes are falling (event), a response option is to increase advertising to improve sales volume before quarterly revenue targets are missed (impact). As time passes after an event occurs, however, there are fewer and fewer responses that a manager can make to the event before the impact occurs.

When discussing real-time information, the goal is to move the capture, monitoring, analysis and reporting steps not just earlier in the process, but into real time. Moving these steps into real time allows the most possible response options and enables choosing the best response from among them. A real-time response without due deliberation can sometimes be more harmful than the original situation. A "right-time" response can be far superior to a real-time response.

Monitoring, capture, analysis and reporting of critical information must move to real time so predicting the present and real-time opportunity detection can take place. They will determine the "right time" for a response to achieve maximum positive results.

To end business surprises, managers must receive a heads-up about the present - a few vital elements of data about what is happening right now in their business. Using this information, a manager can successfully understand the big picture at any given moment and predict the present. Using this real-time understanding of what is happening in his or her business, any manager has the chance to take action to prevent surprises and turn them into opportunities. Copyright © 2004 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591392996
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
  • Publication date: 4/14/2004
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents


Section One: Ending Business Surprises

Chapter OneTurning Business Disasters Into Opportunities

Chapter Two Identifying and Justifying the Right Real Time Information

Section Two: Real Time in the Real World

Chapter Three Surprise Event: Missing the Warning

Chapter Four Suspected Event: Reporting Too Late

Chapter Five Surmounted Events: Getting it Right

Section Three: From Real Time Opportunity Detection to the Real Time Enterprise

Chapter Six Deploying Real Time Opportunity Detection Across the Enterprise

Chapter Seven Solving the Challenges of Deploying Real Time Opportunity

Chapter Eight The Future in a Real Time World

Conclusion: The Time is Now

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It's funny how seemingly unrelated experiences in one's life ultimately reveal a common truth. When I was three years old I remember my mother frantically running around our apartment and closing windows while a TV reporter spoke about a hurricane that was approaching New York City. I remember how painful it was to learn, years later, how engineers warned NASA against launching the Challenger space shuttle. I remember that the following year a ferry capsized in the English Channel, killing nearly 200 people. The ferry's bow doors were left open, the sea poured in, the water's weight toppled the ferry over, all because an inexpensive safety system signaling to the captain that he should not leave the dock had not been included in the ship design.

These and other events came racing back to me after the stock market crash that began in March 2000. I wanted to understand how so much corporate value and personal wealth could be eradicated virtually overnight and seemingly without warning. I thought back to the Challenger and Zeebrugge ferry disasters, recalling that before those horrific events, there was warning. I began to wonder if the same was true of business disasters; was there warning, not only before the stock market crash, but also before other business "disasters" like lost markets, failed products, and bankruptcies? Like the hurricane warning I remember and are now so common, could managers and investors be similarly warned of approaching difficulties? By studying innumerable natural and business disasters, I discovered, first, that there is always warning. Second, I discovered that there were companies today benefiting from real-time information that allowed them to avoid surprises and seize opportunities. And when I saw patterns in how successful companies were benefiting and others were failing, a book was born.

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