Whether or not these are, in fact, the dumbest may be subject to debate but they will certainly serve the purposes of Horowitz and the editors of Business 2.0 magazine, assisted by Mark Athitakis and Mark Lasswell. (For my own purposes, I will simply refer to them collectively as the book's co-authors.) Throughout nine chapters, they examine "useless products, ruinous deals, clueless bosses, and other signs of unintelligent life in the workplace." The material offers substantial entertainment value ("What on earth were they thinking?") but also provides several legitimate business lessons which, hopefully, will enable an enlightened reader to avoid making the same mistakes. How were these "moments" selected? There were three primary criteria: First of all, nobody gets killed...Second, the stories must have a discernible moment of utter fatuity rather than a slowly festering brainlessness...Third, when some form of business buffoonery is particularly chronic, only the choicest example makes the cut." These are obviously not dumb criteria.
The titles of the nine chapters correctly indicate how the co-authors organized evidence of "unintelligent life in the workplace." It seems eminently appropriate that in Chapter One: Research and Development, they include this familiar observation: "Everything that can be invented has been invented." Charles H. Duell, Federal Office of Patents commissioner, 1899. Subsequent chapters examine Human Resources, Manufacturing and Production, Senior Management, Public Relations, Sales and Marketing, Accounting, Legal, and Information Technology. The usual suspects include New Coke, the Edsel, the Waterworld film, 17th century tulip bulbs, and Charles K. Ponzi. However, there are dozens of other "moments" of which I was previously unaware.
I also appreciate the wealth of quotations, especially when provided by those (such as Mr. Duell) who should have known better. For example, then president and CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation Kenneth Olson at the annual convention of the World Future Society in 1977: "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home." Years earlier, Thomas Watson, Sr. (then CEO of IBM) estimated that the worldwide market for personal computers was fewer than ten. Presumably those who headed Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) agreed with Watson and Olson. How else to explain their generous provision of information to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak which enabled them to complete the design of what became the Apple I computer?
As I read this entertaining as well as informative book, I recalled the suggestion (but not the source) that Russian historians can predict the past with absolute accuracy and Theodore Roosevelt's comments about "the man in the arena." Also Thomas Edison's response to an assistant's frustration after 90+ "failures" of a research project. Edison did not view them as failures. Rather, he explained, those efforts had merely indicated how NOT to solve the given problem.
For me, at least, the most valuable lessons to be learned are from failures, not successes. Now more than ever before, success in the business world heavily depends upon innovative thinking. Presumably the co-authors agree with me that "useless products, ruinous deals, clueless bosses, and other signs of unintelligent life in the workplace" are probably the inevitable price to be paid for achieving that success.