Send in the Canaries

In the early 1900s, coal miners in the UK found that, if they took live canaries down into the mines, they could predict the presence of lethal gases. If the canary in the cage died, they knew the air wasn’t safe to breathe and had to get out quickly.

A shoutout to Andrew Limouris, CEO of Medix, and his team for recently reminding me of the phrase ‘canary in the coal mine’ which is still used today to describe some kind of predictive indicator of serious trouble.

The most successful leaders we’ve worked with, around the world and across industries, proactively and regularly send out their canaries. Not just to look out for danger but to seek and gather indicators that give them a forward-looking pulse on their market, and what they might expect in the next few quarters to few years.

Reading the Signs

These signs come from at least three to five data sources and external indicators: analysts or subscribed data feeds, financial reports or forecasts from different organizations in their space. Some companies use their own clever algorithms or simple excel sheets to extrapolate data.

Whatever the source and method of analysis, these leaders want to understand what their customers are thinking, and what’s happening in the marketplace.

And they use what the data – combined with decades of experience in different market cycles – to inform and direct their strategic thinking, and to predict what’s coming.

Now, this ongoing influx of data doesn’t necessarily give leaders all the answers. But it does give them a wider view than they get in their internal world.

As important, this exercise triggers new and different questions, which lead to new and different perspectives.

Michel Dell, from Dell Technologies calls it “reading the tea leaves”.

The Challenge

    • What helps to understand the canary in your industry’s coal mine?
    • How do you use the information to inform your strategic thinking?

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