In Search of Stupidity

Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters

This book, as the subtitle suggests, looks over the last 20 years or so of "High Tech" that is, computers and their associated software. It starts off by debunking by the Tom Peters creation "In Search of Excellence" and its theories (guess where they got the title for this book?), and then catalogues the mistakes of the various technology companies that went to the wall, but also those who survived.

Microsoft run most of the way through the book, and to some extent form a reference point or yard stick to compare their competition to as the come and go. They could also be used as an example of what to do. Early on in the book, they explore the theory that Microsoft are still around, when others aren't, because the mistakes that they made weren't big enough to flatten the company.

I found the book interesting for a couple of reasons. The first, and most obvious one, is that it catalogues the industry that work in. Names and systems that I had forgotten served as reminders of where I had been many years ago.

Digital Research GEM which was an early Windowing UI and of course, targeted by Apple at the time for some legal argumentation. The whole personal productivity arena served up some old names; Wordstar, which was the main word processor when I became aware of such things. This comes in for a particularly sobering story of a product's lifecycle. Ashton Tate, who had lots of adverts in Personal Computer World when I started working, and were later absorbed into Borland.

The early days featured a number of industry "Characters" who defined the companies as much as their products. The dotcom bubble comes in for review, when defined business practice went out of the window, then crashed back in our faces.

Of course, editorial practicalities mean that the book misses out or glosses over certain stories, at 230 odd pages in a hard bound format, it isn't the biggest of books, and there are a few pictures to go with that.

The second reason took longer to realise, but dawned on me as I wrote this review. In picking a 20 year time frame, it approximates with my own personal interest in computing that formed in my very early teens and formed the basis for my career. Being in my early thirties, those 20 years almost match exactly with my own growing up, and figuring it all out (still). Like me, the industry still has some way to go to get to the maturity of other sectors such as engineering or other creative or production based industry. Lots of growing pains to go through, lots of stupid things to be repeated in the mistaken belief that anything is the first time it has ever happened.

posted on Saturday, June 19, 2004 5:25 PM Print
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