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In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters [Kindle Edition]

Merrill R. (Rick) Chapman
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In Search of Stupidity is National Lampoon meets Peter Drucker. It's a funny and well-written business book that takes a look at some of the most influential marketing and business philosophies of the last 20 years and, through the dark glass of hindsight, provides an educational and vastly entertaining examination of why they didn't work for many of the country's largest and best-known high-tech companies. Make no mistake: most of them did not work.

Marketing wizard Richard Chapman takes readers on a hilarious ride in this book, which is richly illustrated with cartoons and reproductions of many of the actual campaigns used at the time. Filled with personal anecdotes spanning Chapman's remarkable career (he was present at many now-famous meetings and events), In Search of Stupidity is a no-holds-barred look at the best of the worst hopeless marketing ideas and business decisions in the last 20 years of the technology industry.

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Merrill R. (Rick) Chapman is the author of the first edition of In Search of Stupidity. He has worked in the software industry since 1978 as a programmer, salesman, support representative, senior marketing manager, and consultant for many different companies, including WordStar (really MicroPro, but no one remembers the name of the company), Ashton-Tate, IBM, Inso, Novell, Bentley Systems, Berlitz, Hewlett-Packard, and Ziff-Davis. His first computer was a Trash One (you antiques out there know what that is), and he began his career writing software inventory management systems for beer and soda distributors in New York City. He is the author of The Product Marketing Handbook for Software, coauthor of the Software Industry and Information Association's U.S. Software Channel Marketing and Distribution Guide, and periodically writes articles about software and high-tech marketing for a variety of publications.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3730 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Apress; 1 edition (July 9, 2003)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001G0OANQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #820,327 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He who does not learn from stupidity... August 29, 2003
In 1982, Tom Peters told the world about how excellent companies were turning around the US economy. What Peters failed to recognize was that many of the companies that he was looking at weren't actually "excellent" but were in fact huge clunking dinosaurs that were producing buggy whips in the age of the automobile. New, smaller companies came around and ate the lunch of the big "excellent" guys and then proceeded to make either the exact same stupid mistakes as the big guys or new and more innovative stupid mistakes.
This book basically deals with the stupidity found in high tech companies of the 1980's and 1990's. Why is Microsoft such a huge company today? It isn't because their products were better or because they cheated other companies out of their rightful place in the market. It's because they weren't as stupid as their competition. Merrill Chapman takes us through the comedy of errors that companies like Digital Research, WordStar, Lotus, and Ashton-Tate went through as they tossed their market leads aside in fits of stupidity. You can't help but laugh (or cry) at the amazing levels of stupidity that these companies exhibited. Examples: WordStar was once one of the finest word processing programs in the world. But somehow the company ended up owning two competing mediocre products. Lotus was the leader in spreadsheets but ignored the rise of Windows and allowed themselves to be knocked out of first place by Excel. These and many more examples are well documented in this book.
The book is not an in-depth study of the business world. You won't find very much analysis of why a particular company made such obviously fatal errors. Why did Borland pay an outrageous sum to buy Ashton-Tate at a time when Ashton-Tate had virtually nothing that Borland needed?
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and humorous November 22, 2006
In Search of Stupidity gets its title from the classic, albeit infamous business book In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies, by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman. In Search of Excellence quickly became a best-seller when it came out in 1988 and launched a new era of management consultants and business books. But in 2001, Peters admitted that he falsified the underlying data. Librarians have been slow to move the book to the fiction section.

In Search of Stupidity is not a traditional business book; rather, it's a high-level analysis of marketing mistakes made by some of the biggest and most well-known high-tech companies over the last 20 years. The book contains numerous stories of somewhat smart companies that have made stupid marketing mistakes. The catastrophe is that these mistakes have led to the demise of many of these companies.

For those who have been in technology for a while, the book will be a somewhat nostalgic look at what has happened over the years from the world of high-tech marketing. Combined with Chapman's often hilarious observations, the book is a most enjoyable and fascinating read and is hard to put down once you start.

The first chapters of the book discuss the story and mythology around the origins of DOS. It details such luminaries as Digital Research, IBM, Microsoft, Bill Gates and Gary Kildall and more. The first myth about Microsoft is the presumption that the original contract with IBM for MS-DOS gave Microsoft an immediate and unfair advantage over its competitors. The reality is that over time, MS-DOS did indeed become Microsoft's cash cow; but it took the idiocy of Apple, IBM and others to make this happen.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clever, but gets tiresome March 8, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Like many of the reviewers, I was taken in by Joel Spolsky's foreward. Like many of the reviewers, I got tired of Chapman's "I was there and I knew better". I'd disagree with the complaints of footnotes - the problem isn't that there are footnotes, but that they're relatively uninformative. I stuck with the book to the end in hopes it would get better, but it didn't.

FWIW, I was a consultant to Novell during much of the time he talks about. I think he missed the point of why Novell failed with NetWare. The real problem I saw was that all decision making was by consensus, and no one would stand up and take responsibility. So when the world started changing, they were paralyzed.

Key issues are (a) there's not enough "lessons learned", (b) he only talks about places he worked and as a result misses whole parts of the computer industry, (c) his writing style is worse than most high school students.

As one of the reviewers said, a blog published as a book. It's good bathroom reading - you can pick it up for 5 minutes, and set it down when you're done. That way the repetition and obnoxious style doesn't get so obnoxious, and you can enjoy the stories.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stupidity: an infinitely renewable resource -- February 22, 2005
-- unfortunately.

This is an enjoyable, amusing, and easily digestible account of some of the multi-billion dollar horrors of the PC age. It's written in a very readable style by one of the guys who lived through a lot of it. He's not afraid to name names, and not (much) ashamed to admit that he was in the thick of some bad ones.

Long before the dot-bomb collapse around 2000, companies in the PC world had been shooting themselves in the foot, making (and repeating) insanely bad decisions, and doing everything they could to drive themselves into the ground. Many succeeded in killing themselves off, others (like IBM and Apple) did not. The recurring themes sound simply ridiculous, unless you live in this high-tech world. They they sound ridiculously familiar. They include:

* Expensive acquisitions of companies with nothing to offer,

* Demolition ("rewriting") of bread-and-butter products,

* Selling two, three, or more products that all do the same thing,

* Annoying and ignoring the customers until they all wander away, and

* Whatever it was, doing it again and again.

This mostly has an anecdotal, non-academic style, so it's an easy and enjoyable read. The dark side of that force is that Chapman isn't always strong on constructive suggestions or on the details of the analysis. Sometimes, though, it would have been psychoanalysis - personalities brash and aggressive when there wasn't that much to be brash about.

Chapman covers only the PC side of the world, so he missed some good ones. There was Apollo Computer, for example, and their steadfast determination to avoid advertising their strengths. Still, he gives plenty of cases, and gives good documentary support from the newsrags of the times.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars ... almost nostalgic read for a long term IS guy like me. Mistakes...
An almost nostalgic read for a long term IS guy like me. Mistakes were plenty and long term success were few in this still sort if new industry/business and the author related them... Read more
Published 3 days ago by Phil Hatch
1.0 out of 5 stars Too smug for my liking.
Too often the author says, "I could see the mistake coming, but they wouldn't listen, and then I was subsequently proven right. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Steven A McLeod
5.0 out of 5 stars Spot on!
I worked in this space during the period he's described, and found this to be a book I simply couldn't put down. Read more
Published 2 months ago by R. E. Statham
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning from high-tech history.
This is a book that tries to teach high-tech companies to learn from the lessons of history. It's probably a futile task, as the author admits, but he spices the stories with a lot... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Rick Cook
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic - but if you can find an earlier edition, go for it
You will be amazed at how careless and arrogant the frontiersman of the software age were as you read through this rich history of software marketing. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Josh
2.0 out of 5 stars Too self-centered
This book contains some interesting bits about the software industry in 80s and 90s, but as a whole, it was a big disappointment. Read more
Published on October 26, 2010 by Tomas Bella
4.0 out of 5 stars How not to run a company
This book is a review of IT screw-ups from the late 70's up til the early 2000's. The author looks at a number of failed companies, some of which he worked for, and analyzes why... Read more
Published on February 21, 2010 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast, lively, and well-written- like a master storyteller doing I.T.
This book, IMO, is written like a Porsche is built: fast, fun, and nimble. Though I picked it up because of its subject matter (computers, software), I also enjoyed it for a... Read more
Published on August 7, 2009 by Jim
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening and Entertaining
Chapman is a great writer, and he really brings to life (in an amusing way) the foibles that were made by the key players on the road to high-tech. Read more
Published on April 2, 2009 by Grimmy
5.0 out of 5 stars Marketing & Industry History for Programmers
A great book to teach programmers about product marketing and a lot of fun history about the software industry.
Published on December 29, 2008 by ActiveScott
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