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Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, then Ignored, the First Personal Computer

4.3 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1583482667
ISBN-10: 1583482660
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Doug Smith has drawn the lessons for "On Value and Values" from hiswork across more than 40 industries and professions as a teacher, lawyer, writer, historian, consultant, and thinker. Named in "The GuruGuide" as one of the worldOs leading management thinkers, he is author orcoauthor of five books, including "Make Success Measurable," "TheDiscipline of Teams, Taking Charge of Change," and the internationalbestsellers "The Wisdom of Teams and Fumbling the Future: " "How XeroxInvented Then Ignored Personal Computing," His work has been featured in"Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, The Harvard Business Review, TheNew York Times," and "The McKinsey Quarterly," and has been cited forinnovation and impact by experts ranging from Tom Peters to WarrenBennis. Smith holds a B.A. from Yale and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.He lives in LaGrangeville, New York

Alexander, a graduate of Harvard Business School, has spent his career as a management consultant in New York City. He is president and founder of Alexander & Associates.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: iUniverse (June 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583482660
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583482667
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #877,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on November 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
I lived through these years on the 10th Floor at Xerox Corporation Systems Headquarters, El Segundo, California - as a Systems Administrator for New Product Development and Training. The book is accurate, but misses one very, very important point: The "Leadership" at Xerox Corporation at this time did not, repeat not, have the "best intentions". On the contrary, they were "Box People" (copier people) who did not have a clue about how to take advantage of this technology. In 1984 we did an internal survey of middle and upper management regarding use of the applications for the Star/Distributed Net (specifically email and Viewpoint software applications for those of you "in the know"). It found that while 76-percent of first and second level management used these applications on a daily or multiple-weekly basis, less than 10-percent of upper and executive management did so (the figure was under 5-percent on returns from Rochester and Stamford). Is this evidence of knowledge or having the "best intentions"? Those of us who did have the knowledge of the potential benefits were in middle management and could see those benefits to our own organisations at that time. We reported on these benefits, talked about them, begged people to come and see for themselves...for years...nothing happened. Many of us grew so frustrated we left (I was one, in 1989), although we still loved (and love) our exciting times at "Brand X". Some stayed, and watched Xerox "retreat" back to a primarily copier/printer company (and in doing so it crushed many a spirit).Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
As most people in the computer industry know Xerox pioneered many of the key breakthroughs in the computer industry, but then they were not able to capitalize on the technology they developed. Many, many other companies have made billions of dollars; however, Xerox just couldn't figure out how to reap the benefits.
The authors of "Fumbling the Future" go into this history in great detail. They first set the stage by describing Xerox's early history, how Xerox invented a copier, and for a number of years they were so successful that they were able to basically print money. Many of the major players in the industry are mentioned, their goals and interests. Xerox was very aggressive, and in some ways they were also a bit lucky, with the copier. Then Xerox decided they needed to also get into the computer industry.
Next the authors talk about how the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) was created, how George Pake selected various key people to help staff the research center, and the charter PARC was given. The book goes over who was hired, what they did, and how the groups at PARC worked together, and sometimes didn't work together.
Here is where you can start to see the train wreck. The first President of Xerox, Joe Wilson, seems to have been a very gifted leader. In terms of "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, Joe Wilson was a level five leader. Unfortunately Joe Wilson dies, and the next president of Xerox, Peter McColough, was at best a level four leader. Peter decided to spend almost a billion dollars for a niche science computer company which Peter then tried to force out into the general computer market, going up against IBM. Peter also took Xerox into Medicine and Education. And Peter got involved in Politics and Charities.
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Format: Paperback
I have been a fan of the story of Xerox PARC ever since reading "Fumbling the Future" several years ago. In fact the lessons I learned contributed to my leaving engineering to get a business degree. Recently I read "Dealers of lightning" by Michael Hiltzik and was surprised to read through it and come across the Epilogue. In fact, I was actually disturbed by how easily the author relieved Xerox of its opportunity (and obligation from a shareholders perspective) to capitalize on the creativity and ingenuity of Xerox PARC. Those of us within the high-tech community certainly appreciate the open ended research that Xerox PARC conducted which has lined the pockets of so many that were never in any way associated with Xerox. However, if I was a shareholder of Xerox or any other company, I would be horrified by any management rationale that 'you are not obligated to exploit the technologies created within your labs'. Granted you may not be able to exploit all, but how about most? Xerox is not the government and is not using tax dollars for a collective good. I found the logic flawed and violates the basic motivations for establishing a commercial entity. I would recommend that for a business minded individual that you go read "Fumbling the Future" - which I have since reread. Reading "Dealers of lightning" was like watching a lawyer weave a case for premeditated murder against an accused and then claim temporary insanity as the final defense.
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This book tells the story of the greatest failure of a corporation in our time to create marketable products from truly great research. It starts by telling the story of how PARC was conceived and how it operated.

In 1973, a number of researchers at Xerox PARC demonstrated the "Alto". The Alto was the first "personal computer" designed not only on a human scale for a single individual but supported by a number of improvements that rendered it "instantly responsive to the user's demands", each of them revolutionary in the computer field. They included: a graphics-oriented monitor with "icons" and overlapping "pages" on the screen that was coordinated by the "mouse" input device; a word-processing program "for nonexpert users"; a local area network, the "Ethernet"; and an object-oriented programming language that combined data with certain commands, which hugely simplified computer operations.

These attributes represented nothing less than a paradigm shift for the computer industry, away from the punch cards, unwieldy printouts of results, obscure programming codes, and the awkward time-sharing arrangements that were the hallmarks of mainframe computers. At that moment, Xerox had a full five-year head start over its future rivals. (Amazingly, PCs have changed little. with the exception of incremental improvements, from this fundamental prototype.)

Unfortunately, few at Xerox headquarters understood the importance of these developments. From its beginning, many executives at Xerox headquarters viewed PARC as a kind of uncontrollable island of insolence and arrogance. When Xerox managers visited PARC, they were struck by the rudeness and counter-cultural feel of the place.
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