REVIEW - In Search of Stupidity - Over 20 years of high-tech marketing disasters


In Search of Stupidity

Over 20 years of high-tech marketing disasters


Merrill R. Chapman



Apress (2003)




Chris Hills


December 2004



required reading for all marketing departments, project managers, strategy groups and computer courses

This is a fascinating book. It is not technical and neither is it a business book, neither is it an autobiography but it is a sideways look at the computer (PC) software industry. Rick Chapman has spent his life in the US software industry. At various times as a programmer, an FAE, a salesman and in marketing with many of the Big Names. He has seen it all and in some cases was in the middle of some of the incidents in the book. This is a book written with hindsight and a lot of honesty. As the author says in a couple of places "I was completely right.... For all the wrong reasons!" and "I was wrong... for the right reasons!" There are lessons to be learned, if we can learn them. Though history does seem doomed to repeat itself.

This book looks at why 9 out of the top 10 computer software companies of 1984 are not in the same list for 2001. In the intervening 17 years all the market leaders "committed suicide"... Yes, the only one in both lists is Microsoft. Not, according to the author, because it was clever or its software was the best but because it made fewer of the major "stupid mistakes" the author attributes to Aston-Tate, Novell, DR, Microfocus, Visicorp etc. He asks: "Given that Microsoft software is 'that bad' why are we all still using in it? What happened to Quattro-Pro, Word-Star, Lotus 1-2-3, D-Base. It is not just the software, what happened to the IBM-PC? (not the "PC-compatible" of DELL et al). Why did OS/2 not sweep the world?" The possible answers are in this book.

Just because something is better it does not mean that the world will use it. E.g. "Everyone" uses VHS video, except the professionals who use Betamax, which is technically superior, and no one uses, what was at the time, the technically even better Philips system. This book looks at the marketing equivalents of the Charge of the Light Brigade that caused the downfall of the, often technically better, market leaders.

The author worked for many of the companies concerned, or a closely related company, at the time of many of the stories told and has a unique, inside view. I did wonder if his middle name might be Jonah at one point! This is the sort of story that can only be told with hindsight and far enough away to avoid the law suites. Though that said the book was published in 2003 and covers up to mid 2002 so the later chapters are almost current.

For many this book will be a trip down memory lane for others a look into pre-history. It may only cover 25 years but for some in the industry they probably know more about the dinosaurs than some of the names from the 80's that are in this book. I am not sure if this is business, history, sociology or gossip.

The style is easy to read and humorous in a relaxed way. This is a fascinating read that will make a good book for the holiday or the long summer days. It should be required reading for all marketing departments, project managers, strategy groups and computer courses. This is a book for the summer holiday or to settle down with at Christmas. Recommended.

Book cover image courtesy of Open Library.

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