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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I took a scuba diving training course when I was a teenager so I could go diving with my brothers. Of the many helpful things I took away from that excellent course, one principle more than any of the others has found its way into every aspect of my life: "panic kills". The sudden economic changes we are going through now (and will continue to face over the coming months and years, despite rosy government predictions) too often cause us to react without careful thinking. We get the urge to do something! Anything! In order to get away from the catastrophe. But this kind of panic is exactly the wrong thing. Conversely, we can also get the urge to just sit down and wait to die. Also, a mistake and a more obvious one. But both are urges can be very strong and hard to override in order to do something more intelligent.

This book by Geoff Colvin can help you take a bit of time to rethink how you want to face this financial downturn. The Great Depression was awful for many families (including my parents' families), but for many others it created opportunities and many fortunes began during that crisis. This brief book shows you how to find a door opening instead of staring at the door that just slammed shut.

Colvin spends two chapters explaining how this downturn can present opportunities for you and your business and what the new global financial normal means. The ten principles mentioned in the subtitle are each given a chapter: 1) Reset your priorities, 2) Protect your people because they are a vital asset to your business, 3) Relationships are changing, so take charge of the change, 4) Take a fresh look at your business model - it might need to adapt to seize fresh opportunities, 5) Manage for Value, 6) Your customers have new problems so create new solutions to help them, 7) Don't panic and cut prices; have some courage, 8) Increase your operational discipline and get healthier faster, 9) Take a deeper look at all the risks your company faces, 10) Spend time on growing yourself.

The last chapter talks about how you should operate in good times to be ready for the next sudden downturn.

Colvin has lots of helpful insights and good arguments for the principles he lays out. He uses examples from the real world to illustrate his points as well as his own persuasive arguments. Again, this isn't a big book or a major work of business philosophy. However, if recent events and your gaze into possible futures leaves you feeling anxious and queasy, this book might be just the kind of think to settle your stomach and help you think through your situation so you can get yourself pointed in a confident direction and begin moving forward again.

Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Ann Arbor, MI
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 28, 2009
The Upside of the Downturn by Jeff Colvin provides a business view of the current economic crisis and raises questions executives should be asking about their company, customers and themselves. This is one of set of books that have been coming out since Ram Charan's Leadership in an era of economic uncertainty debuted last year. The other notable book on this topic is Jim Collin's How the Mighty Fall and Paul Krugman's The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008.

The Upside of a Downturn falls somewhere in between Charan's pointed advice directed straight at the CEO and Collins discussion of the forces that pull companies down. As such, The Upside of a Downturn provides more of a business magazine view of the economic crisis and what businesses should do rather than a hard academic or business book treatment of the subject. This view is understandable as Colvin is the Senior Editor at Fortune.

Colvin's writing is clear and the use of company examples is helpful even if some of them provide only a passing reference more than in depth analysis. Colvin peppers his view on the crisis with memorable quotes and observations that will provide you with sound bytes of wisdom.

This is a good book and worth the read. But it is more of a discourse on the events that have happened, the responses of marquee named companies and bringing together points from other parties than anything else. Colvin leverages his extensive network of contacts and interactions at Fortune as well as studies from the major business strategy-consulting firms like McKinsey and Booz, Allen etc.

Overall recommended but not a must drop everything and read now book. This is more of a buy it for an airplane book than a go to a quiet place to read type of book. I am smarter for having read this book and it was time well spent.

Strengths:

Provides a good framework of 12 chapters focused on different aspects of the opportunities and issues created by the current global economic crisis. The view is comprehensive and focused - something hard to do when discussing the global economic crisis/recession.

Chapter Nine - Price with courage is perhaps the best chapter in the book and a strong reminder of the implications of price and the risks associated with pricing decisions that people make every day. Pricing is one of the things that everyone things they know, but they do not and this chapter shows the difference.

Chapter Eight - Create new solutions for customers' new problems are helpful and bring a fresh perspective on customer behavior and responses to it.

Chapter Seven - Manage for value is a fairly strong chapter with a focus on measuring the economic profit of your operations and product lines.

The book stays away from policy prescriptions and presents the facts, observations and opinions of leaders. This is a welcome aspect of the book as it informs rather than tries to re-educate the reader.

Challenges:

The book is decidedly U.S. centric, which really does not hit you until you look at the companies, data and references. People outside the US will find the book interesting and its general principles applicable but recognize its U.S. centricity.

The descriptions of what has happened and the mentioning of big name companies gets a little repetitive throughout the book. These gets to the point that you can bypass paragraphs and even skim whole pages because the discussion has been made before - particularly in the middle and final three chapters.

Chapter Six - Reexamine your strategy and business model is particularly weak and discusses generalities rather than providing suggested tools or actions. In this chapter you see the differences between journalism and consulting.

The book is light on specific prescriptions, which is consistent with the author's intent to raise questions and position the crisis as the basis for opportunity. So if you are looking for more of a road map I would suggest Charan or Collin's books.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
My mom told me that "all experiences in life are good ones, but only if you draw the right lessons from them. Otherwise, it is just something that happened to you." My mom and Colvin would have gotten along. In 171 pages, he sets out how to draw the right lessons and what to do now. Here is one gem: "they'll never forget what you do now." Think about employees, clients, vendors and your intereactions with them. How are you treating them in these dark days? If badly("hey employee you have no where to go so just thank me for keeping you around"), then they will bolt when things turn around.And don't give into what Colvin calls "ancient instincts" and resort to layoffs to solve your problems. That's like the generals who fight the last wars. Years ago, it was the role of people to make the machines run; now,the role of equipment is to enable people. So, understand that layoffs have a hugh cost, not just in severence payments but in lost intellectual capital. There is lots more. A valuable and inspiring read , not about success, but about opportunity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Although in dispute whether or not (as some insist) the Chinese character for the word "crisis" has two meanings, peril and opportunity, the juxtaposition of the two helps to explain Geoff Colvin's response to a question many business leaders now ask: "How can my company survive and then prevail during the current recession, and eventually thrive in its aftermath?" What he recommends are ten management principles (none of which is a head-snapping revelation) that can guide and inform efforts to achieve the objectives indicated in the question. It is important to keep in kind that Colvin is a hardcore, world-class pragmatist who has an insatiable curiosity to understand what works, what doesn't, and why...and then share what he has learned with others, with the hope that the information and advice provided will prove helpful to them. I should add that all of his material is anchored in real-world situations. Also, that he is especially talented writer.

In the introductory chapter, Colvin observes: "Performance in the Tour de France is a lot like performance in business and, for that matter, in virtually every realm: the worst, most difficult conditions bring out differences in competitors that were not previously apparent. Such conditions turn leaders suddenly into laggards and vice versa. They determine the winners and losers. Periods of extreme stress and challenge are reliably when dramatic competitive change takes place." In this context, I remember the outrage expressed by golfers who played in a U.S. Open years ago. The rough was too high, the fairways were too narrow, the greens were too fast, etc. In response to the uproar, an office of the U.S.G.A. replied, "We're not trying to embarrass the world's greatest golfers. We're trying to identify them." That is what the "difficult conditions" to which Colvin refers do. Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas characterize them as a "crucible" from which some leaders emerge stronger, others do not.

Colvin devotes a separate chapter to each of the ten management principles. Wherever appropriate, he also offers an explanation of especially important issues or developments. For example:

Why "this historic downturn really does offer new, similarly scaled possibilities. The reasons are specific and hardheaded" (Pages 4-9)

"Why we don't have to wait for the recession to end to see the new world that it's creating - to glimpse the next episode in the story" (Pages 19-24)

How to examine the most significant changes - in six key categories that shape performance -- in a company's competitive world (Pages 27-34)

Given the "enormously destructive power of this recession," which lessons does it suggest that will help business leaders to understand what that its risks are and how to manage them effectively (Pages 137-144)

Colvin observes, "A tendency to avoid reality, to minimize bad news, may lie deep in a corporate culture. [That may also be true of what James O'Toole apply characterizes as `ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.'] But while most cultural change must start at the top, this change can start anywhere. This recession is an unprecedented opportunity to begin such a change." In most workplaces, there is a wider and deeper sense of job insecurity now than at any previous time that I can recall since the 1930s.

Readers will appreciate Colvin's generous provision of examples of companies that demonstrate the effectiveness of several of the ten management principles that he recommends. However different these companies may be in most respects, Colvin suggests that their leaders understand the importance of taking five actions that are "simple to state and may seem simple to do, but they aren't": (1) They are highly visible and "make it emphatically clear they are present and on the job," (2) They are calm and in control, demonstrating composure and especially self-discipline; (3) They are decisive, making not only the tough calls but making what Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis characterize (in their book Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls) as "the right tough calls"; (4) They show fearlessness by "facing bad news head on without cringing," addressing dangers in unvarnished terms; and (5) They explain a crisis in a larger context "by giving shape to events that have occurred and are occurring, portraying them as interesting, normal elements of life that may be no fun but [can be dealt with] while learning and growing." In the healthiest organizations, there are leaders at every level and in all areas who demonstrate these five actions.

Credit Geoff Colvin with sharing everything he knows that can help many (if not most) companies to survive and then prevail during the current recession, and eventually thrive in its aftermath. I suggest that business leaders who read this book think of it as a hybrid: a wake-up call/reality check and an operations manual. Heaven knows, the challenges business leaders now face are formidable. That said, they would be well-advised to keep in mind what Henry Ford said long ago: "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right." The choice is theirs.
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Great to see someone take both a contrarian view and be willing to go on record for it and to apply common sense to the results that quantitative models and their owners projected. Hunkering down is easier to do than to do the extra work, strategy, and risk management needed to thrive over the next few years.

Gary W Patterson the FiscalDoctor
Author of Stick Out Your Balance Sheet and Cough: Best Practices for Long-Term Business Health
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2009
This book was insightful and provided much needed perspective for these turbulent (and opportunistic) times. This is an easy, must read for all C-Suite Execs
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