Highly recommended by two of my favorite bloggers, Joel Spolsky and Erik Sink it was with a great deal of expectation, I started out reading this book. The book is subtitled “Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters”, and what can be more entertaining than reading about other people’s mistakes?
Not much, I would soon discover! In an extremely funny and lively style, the author Merrill R. Chapman, takes the reader through twelve chapters, each introduced by a nice cartoon drawing and describing a not so successful part of our proud industry’s history.
At the same time as I was rolling my eyes because of the mistakes made by managers of some of the biggest software companies in the world, I also found myself laughing out loud because of the hilariously funny descriptions of the obvious stupidity. Chapman having worked or consulted for several of the companies mentioned, enabling him spice everything up with personal anecdotes of both situations and people, just adds to the entertainment.
Several of the stories are from about the time, when I was first entering the industry. I remember many of the companies mentioned and also using their products. Companies and products that either completely or almost completely have disappeared from the public eye today.
Today the story very often is that the evil company from Redmond has used its monopoly to crush everyone else. But reading this book makes it clear how a lot of the companies went through a huge effort in order to practically obliterate themselves, and more or less serving the monopoly to Microsoft.
Why is it that today Apple has to make its living from selling iPods and not computers? And where exactly did Borland, Netscape, Novell, and WordPerfect go? Once shining stars of the software industry? These are just some of the companies that qualified for the book about stupidity. And don’t worry – obviously Microsoft also made it.
Being a marketing specialist Chapman does not just point fingers and make fun. Two further chapters titled “On Avoiding Stupidity” and “Stupid Analysis” give insight on both the main causes of failure in the software industry, as well as how the disasters in the first twelve chapters could have been avoided. Two interesting chapters, offering both detailed and easy understandable analysis, which I am sure a lot of (former) CEOs would have liked to read.
Though the title of this book may indicate that it is for the people in marketing and sales, the target group is far broader than that. It is a good read for everyone interested in the computer industry – and especially the history. As always the history is a very good way to explain why things are as they are today.
If you are interested the book has its own website where you can read more reviews. You can also read Joel Spolsky’s foreword to the first edition in his blog.
About seven years ago when everybody was having a great time riding the dot com wave, I was working as a developer at a company that truly lived up to the expectations of IT companies of that time. In the development team we had a saying that we used over and over again. It described those times, just as it describes the stories in this book:
“It’s funny ‘cause it's true!”.