Wake Up or Die is a 138-page commercial for Corrine Sandler’s business, Fresh Intelligence Research Corp. There’s nothing wrong with that when the book offers readers fresh, valuable information. Unfortunately, I don’t think she did her firm any favors by publishing this.
Her message is that businesses need intelligence. Managers need to understand their customers, competitors, markets, and much more. This is Business 101, and Wake Up or Die never goes beyond this basic truism. Rather, Sandler uses Sun Tzu’s 2,500-year-old treatise The Art of War as a skeleton on which to hang her pronouncements.
A problem: The function of war is to destroy the enemy, his army and his means of continuing to make war. The function of business is to obtain and retain customers (thank you Peter Drucker), not to destroy competitors. No customers—no business and no need for intelligence. Therefore, trying to make Sun Tzu’s thirteen chapters fit neatly into her argument is often a stretch. For example, Sun Tzu points out a general needs spies. Sandler points out a manager needs competitive intelligence—true—but there’s a huge difference between planting a spy in the enemy camp and regularly checking a competitor’s web site, quarterly reports, and other publicly available data.
Another problem: Probably because her firm has non-disclosure agreements with her clients (loose lips sink ships after all), Sandler cannot use the firm’s work to illustrate her points. She is stuck using old (Ford’s first assembly line) or well-known (Kodak’s bankruptcy) examples. Because she’s using secondary sources (which she does not cite), she cannot show exactly how intelligence—or the lack of it—played a role in the case. Kodak invented digital photography but allowed other companies to exploit it. Why? What intelligence did Apple have that made its leaders think the iPhone was a good idea? Sandler doesn’t—almost certainly can’t—tell us.Aside from the biz-speak writing and clumsy writing (“…throwing money at the media is now a double-edged sword…”), it is hard to see the audience for whom Wake Up or Die is written. Sandler’s examples are virtually all large consumer products companies thereby ignoring business-to-business cases. She seems to be exhorting senior executives, but because she offers almost no practical, actionable suggestions on how they can turn data into intelligence, it is difficult to see what CEOs would do with her ideas that they’re not already doing. If I were Sander’s public relations counsel, I would recommend she not distribute the book.