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In Search of... Pointless Self-Promotion

I decided to pick up a copy of "In Search of Stupidity" by Merrill Chapman, thinking that if Joel wrote a forward to it, that's an implicit endorsement of the book.

Boy, was that ever a mistake.

I've read half of it, and I'm fighting an urge to throw it in the trash already. The author simply writes about companies he has worked at, and spends much time smugly informing the user of his mundane experiences that usually have little or no connection to the topic - their only purpose seems to be to be a desparate attempt by the author to make himself seem like he has special insider knowledge (touting the gems of deep insight that ones has from being a PC salesman and as a medicocre middle-manger).

He talks about the companies that failed with an air of unwarranted smugness. We get all sorts of personal opinions which aren't backed up with data, and worse - he offers no solutions apart from some banal, blindingly obvious statements. Of course, it's clear from his comments that had HE been in charge, the companies involved would now dwarf Microsoft.

I give it a D.

Burninator
Monday, August 25, 2003

Big surprise based on the forward, eh?

Pandora
Monday, August 25, 2003

Actually, I'm at the same point in the book you seem to be and I find it a refreshingly cynical, if non-scientific, viewpoint on pre-modern computer development. This man knows his stuff and uses his personal experiences to highlight and expand upon both the humourous and informative elements of his work. While I wouldn't recommend this book as a business textbook, it does contain some gems of marketing in its pessimism and, when viewed as a first person history, is an amusing and accurate view of failures in the industry. Mr. Chapman knows his stuff.

Besides, if arrogance and self involvement were crimes the vast majority of posters on this board would spend their time learning doublespeak and wearing tinfoil hats.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, August 25, 2003

Well, I suppose if one was viewing it as an autobiography it woudn't be so bad. The problem I have is that the author spent some time in the first chapter positioning it as business book - but instead we get something entirely different.

There is some interesting history (ala "Accidential Empires" and others of that genere - which, by the way are far better than this book), but overall it's still coming across to me a vehicle for the author to boast of his rather unremarkable experiences.

That said, I'll readily acknowledge that I'm hard to please.

Burninator
Monday, August 25, 2003

Burninator,

Are you in the US? If so, I will buy the book off of you.  How about $10, plus Priority Mail shipping (another $3 or so)

--
ee

eclectic_echidna
Monday, August 25, 2003

I'm intrigued by the phrase "refreshingly cynical."  Skepticism has its charms, to be sure, but wha't appealing about what the dictionary calls "an attitude of scornful or jaded negativity"?  It's not as though that's in short enough supply to be refreshing.

Hardware Guy
Monday, August 25, 2003

When compared to management books in the same genre as In Search of Excellence, Chapman's cynicism brings a somewhat enlightening view of the other side of stories and rumors we all have shared over the last twenty years. That's refreshing as compared to the hoopla books of the early 80s and mid 90s. When compared to today's books, Chapman has an upbeat style of cynicism that acts in contrast to the pessimism most often found today. He implies that there is hope of not repeating the same stupid mistakes, although he is not quick to offer concrete solutions.

It's interesting to consider whether offering solutions would be a good idea at this juncture in Chapman's career, seeing as he is criticising a well regarded book that did just that and failed miserably.

Burninator, I would agree that there are better books out there. But I judge each book and author on his own merits. When we compare all plays to Shakespeare, do we have a right to complain of their bitter failure? Chapman, although moderately self-aggrandizing, manages to capture the air of the industry peer in a group of experts. Instead of dictating truths, he shares campfire tales of stupidity that I find charming, reminiscent as they are of many of my own.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, August 25, 2003

Got ya: jaded negativity, but an *upbeat* jaded negativity.

Hardware Guy
Monday, August 25, 2003

Believing or showing the belief that people are motivated chiefly by base or selfish concerns; skeptical of the motives of others: a cynical dismissal of the politician's promise to reform the campaign finance system.
http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=cynical

I think this is the refreshing version of cynical.  During the dot-con the suits were trying to sell themselves as pioneers forging new economic terrtiory.  Its refreshing to have them shown as the incompetent weasels they really are.

Ged Byrne
Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Dustin: Point well-taken. I concede that my judgement of the book was a little unfair. Although my assessment is still, to borrow a phrase from horse racing: "in this company others preferred". That doesn't mean the book has no value, of course.

The main things that irritated me about this book was his extensive use of meaningless little footnotes that smack of a deep, desperate psychological need to be seen as important in some sense. Put it this way - at least half of them start with the word "I" and almost all of the rest of the footnotes use the word "I" somewhere in them. 

That said, with the help of a better editor, this could have been an entertaining book - and indeed, it could be for those who are willing to overlook the flaws I've mentioned.

Burninator
Tuesday, August 26, 2003

"I" and almost all of the rest of the footnotes use the word "I" somewhere in them. 

Well, that's because "I" was there!

I SUPPOSE I could refer to myself in the third person, but that's seems rather pointless!

rick

rick chapman
Thursday, August 28, 2003

+++I've read half of it, and I'm fighting an urge to throw it in the trash already. The author simply writes about companies he has worked at,+++

Objectively untrue.

I worked at MicroPro, Ashton-Tate, and consulted with IBM and Novell.  I profile or mention the errors of about twenty companies in the book, though since I've been around awhile I certainly know many people who worked at these other companies and drew on their experiences to write the book.  For instance, I spoke to Pete Peterson, one time head of WordPerfect, about the events that occurred to bring the company down.

+++and spends much time smugly informing the user of his mundane experiences+++

Also objectively untrue.

Let's take MicroPro for example, the $70M company that destroyed itself over a marketing positioning mistake.  While it's true that I worked there, there is no factual dispute about what destroyed the company.

Nor is there any factual dispute that Borland and later Novell repeated almost exactly the same mistake years later with almost exactly the same consequences.

Now, I'm not sure why that's "smug." 

Nor that usually have little or no connection to the topic - their only purpose seems to be to be a desparate attempt by the author to make himself seem like he has special insider knowledge (touting the gems of deep insight that ones has from being a PC salesman and as a medicocre middle-manger).

I'm not sure what you mean by this.  for example, the chapter dedicated to MicroPro's positioning disaster and MSs stupid "Two Nags" ad campaign is called "Positioning Puzzlers." 

The chapter dedicated to AT and Ed Esber is called "We Hate You, We Really Hate You" and boy, they really DID hate him (Ed) and some still do!

The Novell chapter is called "Godzilla to Gecko" and that certainly seems an accurate description of what has happened to Novell.

+++We get all sorts of personal opinions which aren't backed up with data,+++

Again, objectively untrue.  How much "data" does anyone need to "prove" that OS/2 was a giant fiasco?  Do people actually need me to go through marketshare figures of the mid-90s to prove this?  I certainly told you what the financial consequences of IBMs failures were: Over 200K in layoffs, a $5B loss in one year, $8B the next, Akers tossed out on his ear, permanent loss of prestige, etc., but how much more do you need to know?

Likewise AT.  How much data do you need?  The company was the market leader in 1988 in its category and was sold to Borland a couple of years later.  At the time it was sold it was loosing market share and money hand over fist!

Or WordPerfect.  At the time of its pointless acquisition it was a $100M money looser.  And I told you its firesale price when Novell finally unloaded it.

And Novell.  There is no factual dispute it shut down its key development support program at the exact time MS was deploying NT.  There is factual dispute it lost its market-leading position to NT.  I told you about is financial losses.

+++ and worse - he offers no solutions apart from some banal, blindingly obvious statements.+++

In some cases, the solution IS blindingly obvious.  Yet, oddly enough, perhaps because of their insufferable arrogance and lack of knowledge of history, companies keep doing the SAME THINGS again and again and again. As I demonstrate with MicroPro, MS, Novell and Borland.

I thought it was very useful to point  this out.

Of course, if you want to repeat history, don't let ME stop you!

+++ Of course, it's clear from his comments that had HE been in charge, the companies involved would now dwarf Microsoft. +++

I say no such thing, nor do I imply it.  Of course, I will say that I learned, the hard way, how much damage a positioning mistake can cause a company and would not repeat THAT mistake.

By watching Ed Esber, I learned not to annoy every developer in the world who used my products.

By watching Intel I learned that if I spend mega bucks telling everyone that great I am because I am great, I'd damn well better bite the bullet if my principle product develops a significant flaw and not try to weasel out of it with geekspeak.

I'm not sure that's smug!  But it IS what happened.

rick

rick chapman
Thursday, August 28, 2003

To follow up, I finished this book yesterday and I am very happy with my purchase. The walk down memory lane was worth the money I spent and Rick, despite naysayers here, has some good insight into the function of failure in a company.

However, I will say that you should buy the book knowing that you are in for more of a history lesson than an objective analysis. I think that was the intended point of the book, despite the slightly amiguous forward. The idea that we can learn from past mistakes, with a highlight of those mistakes, requires no technical analysis to be glaringly obvious. I think this book suffers from certain reviews because of two issues: The first is the reader, who may be of a more technical nature than this books target audience. If you're looking for objective hard numbers and fact versus apparent truths and common sense, this is not the book for you. Second, I believe it is hurt slightly by comparison to In Search of Excellence. Because of the parrallism apparent in the titling, people pick up the book expecting it to be an opposing treatise in the same form of its 'predecessor'. Reading the book with such a view would no doubt be disappointing, as it participates at a much higher level of the management genre.

That said, am I the only one on this board who found Rick's little personal notes entertaining and pertinent to the subject? There were moments in the book that brought me to remember the events he mentioned. His notes that he was at COMDEX, or participated at Micropro, served to both validate his experience (resoundingly, I might add) and draw the reader further into the experience on a more personal level.

And now I cede the floor to Rick, who is obviously more than capable of defending himself.

Dustin Alexander
Thursday, August 28, 2003

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