Free Press, 2003
Hardcover, 272 pages

Reviews by JOHN SWIFT

For a generation, creative or lateral thinking, new ideas and unorthodox solutions to problems have become the subject of increasing attention, popularity, promotion and encouragement.

New technologies and the resulting new methodologies and revolutionary tools to organize and access information provide new circumstances for decision-making and new challenges. These have been characterized as opportunities, if not occasions, for innovative, original, novel and inventive responses.

Old wine in new bottles. Nothing new under the sun. Plus ça change. Are these circumstances and challenges new and different? Do they require solutions that are necessarily novel and without precedent? Or are we simply looking at issues that have occurred before and will occur again through new lenses?

For once, along comes a book that looks critically and skeptically at thinking outside the box. But it goes further than that. It is possibly the best business book we have looked at. It brushes past thinking outside the box, characterizing it as an activity that has brought us more chaos than success.

Cheyfitz proposes that what the dot-com crash, the telecom disaster, the Enron collapse, and all the myriad, multibillion-dollar business catastrophes of the last decade have in common is a total lack of regard for (or complete ignorance of) the basic rules of business.

But the real value of this book is that it defines best practices of management and does it well.

On the premise that the business world lost its way when it forgot how to think inside the box, Cheyfitz lays out a set of historically proven principles he calls “The Box” — the 12 unchanging rules for building, expanding, and maintaining a strong business.

The 12 Principles (slightly paraphrased):

  • Know the difference between what will change and what won’t, and pay attention to the former.
  • Profits! The first business of business is making money.
  • Cash Is Everything. If you don’t manage your cash, you won’t be managing anything for long.
  • Know what Can Be Controlled and What Can’t. It is far better (and more certain) to cut expenses than to pray for sales.
  • Customers are the Boss. Give customers what they want, not what you want to give them.
  • Marketing unifies the whole business. You should be selling all the time.
  • If you can buy it, don’t start it up. Follow the example of virtually every big company in history and buy your way to bigness.
  • Hire Smart or Manage Hard. When it comes to people, you can hire smart and get out of the way, or you can run yourself ragged micromanaging.
  • Secure the Real Assets. Find your business’s real assets (the ones that generate your profits) and exploit them for all they’re worth.
  • Results Are More Important Than Process. Remember that the end result is what really matters.
  • Nothing Lasts Forever. Always be ready to renew your basic business.
  • Always have an exit strategy. Make a plan to get your money out, and keep the plan updated and handy.

In the end it may be that the real value of this book, and there is plenty of it, lies in the analysis and wisdom presented under each principle. Look for example at the summary of the material presented in support of the seventh principle.

  • Done right, acquiring is inherently less risky than starting some¬thing new
  • Never start what you can buy.
  • M&A is not a part-time job, a hobby, or a sideline for managers.
  • To get acquisitions right, make M&A a core business activity.
  • Create an acquisition strategy.
  • Be opportunistic, but don’t stray too far from the strategy.
  • Learn the M&A practices of the companies that buy over and over again.
  • Designate full-time managers to find and investigate deals.
  • Shop around.
  • Do due diligence diligently, remembering to look closely at the people, not just the buildings, the accounts, and the pending lawsuits.
  • Involve operators, not just lawyers and accountants.
  • Have a painfully detailed integration plan before the deal doses.
  • Never be afraid to walk away from a deal before closing.
  • Never pay too much.
  • Once the deal closes, never hesitate and never look back—execute the post-closing plan without delay.
  • The buyer pays for the closing dinner.

Thinking Inside the Box is direct and well written. The advice is simple, specific and unforgiving. For example, under Principle 10, Kirk Cheyfitz says about results: “Is this process helping to achieve the desired results? If the answer isn’t an unequivocal yes, ditch the process”. Or, the look at the introduction to the book which is entitled, “Read This First…Don’t Do Anything Stupid”.

Profits are described as the Jack – in the – Box. There are no surprises and no surprising magic. “Always judge a business by its true revenues, expenses and profits … these are the only meaningful metrics”.

Cheyfitz’s research and his experience give him a strong ability to appreciate and describe the implications of the case studies in the book, both good and bad. For the dot-com crash, the telecom disaster, the Enron collapse, and other multibillion-dollar business casualties of recent years this is an informative look at what went wrong.

Kirk Cheyfitz is both an award-winning reporter and successful businessman. He remains current and recent articles, which you can find by Googling his name, are very insightful.

Truths are truths, often with wide implications and application. When I finished Thinking Inside the Box it came to me that this may only be a book about getting it right, about how, if you pay attention to what you should, the rest will take care of itself. A lesson for business … and for life.


Anchor Canada, 2001
256 pages

This book is exactly what it says it is, a life on a river. No more no less. It  invokes the taste, smell, feeling and rhythm of a moving river with sporadic pools of deeper reflection. Richards gently and with precision casts his lines on the water of this narrative with skill. When they touch down gently on the surface of the stream you are hooked.

It is not a how-to book, it is not a plot-defined story or even a book of deep and complex observations on fishing or on life. It is about a lifetime of fishing in a sparsely inhabited wooded river. A life of simple experiences and simple observations. Molasses sandwiches and tea. Old trucks, simple camps, fried floured trout and the pursuit of salmon. You can’t be in a hurry and the book, like the fishing it describes, rewards patience. There are moments of excitement, few surprises, long days, black flies and mosquitoes, slippery rocks, a long suffering wife, backwoods characters, moose, bear, deer and every dry fly known to man.

Richards reads the fish the way you should read this book. He goes back to the water again and again learning, each time a little more about the current, the eddies and the combinations of light, weather and attitudes.

Somehow it is all worthwhile. Like a few days of fishing.