What’s Your “Canary in a Coal Mine”?

January 30, 2014

Canary in a Coal Mine

To act as a canary in a coal mine is to serve as a warning to others. The term stems from an earlier era, when miners would bring canaries into the coal mine in order to know if their oxygen supply was being interrupted or contaminated by gases like methane and carbon monoxide. The canary has a unique sensitivity to these hazardous gases, and if they experienced distress or death, miners knew that they should evacuate immediately. Canaries were used into the 20th century until more systematic and reliable methods were implemented. Today, the term is used way more frequently than actual canaries.

Rose in a Vineyard

When I was traveling in Marin County recently, I visited a winery. This winery, like many others, sported a beautiful display of roses surrounding the vineyard. Like the canary, the rose plant has a heightened sensitivity to potential hazards. Trouble for roses usually signals trouble is coming for grapevines (particularly mildew) because of the plants’ similar genetic make-up.

What is your Rose or Canary?

Each business is susceptible to many hazards, toxins, and contaminates. These threats may come in the form of legislation, litigation, regulations, competition, supplier dependability, financing, etc. What threats are you particularly vulnerable to? Have you discovered a telltale sign that can provide you early warning before one of these threats kills your organization?

When my company was starting out, we learned to have a weekly cash flow statement published and on our desks every Friday morning. If it was going red, it was a dead canary! What is your canary in a coal mine? What “roses” might you plant around your organization?

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