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

Merrill R. (Rick) Chapman
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 9 2003 1590591046 978-1590591048 1

This book is an eye-opener to the differences between how software gets built and how it gets sold.

— Michael Ernest, JavaRanch Sheriff

Big corporations...have the money and the brain cells, but despite this, still manage to shoot themselves in the feet every now and then.

— Valentin Crettaz, Val's Blog: Stuff for software engineers and Java addicts

The history of marketing and technology is riddled with cautionary stories that stick up like dung covered punji sticks. Read this, and avoid stepping on one.

— Jeff "Hemos" Bates, Director, OSDN Online & Executive Editor,

Rick Chapman knows where the bodies are buriedwhen most people have forgotten there was even a murder. This history of tech marketing disasters is well-written, enjoyable, and gets its facts straight.

— Jonathan Angel, Senior Editor, West Coast, Adweek's Technology Marketing Magazine

Gives us an amusing (and sometimes embarrassing) array of anecdotes of how far we've come (and not come) in high technology...a fun read, with many invaluable lessons.

— Brenda Bennett South, Vice President, Weber Shandwick

An invaluable history lesson in how to avoid monumental marketing mistakes that are unfortunately common in the software industry.

— Alyssa Dver, BusinessWeek Special Sections Contributor

Having followed many of these companies and products over the years, I'd often wondered why such smart people made such weird choices. Rick Chapman has many of the answers.

— James Fallows, former editor-in-chief, US News and World Report, and regular writer for The Atlantic

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.

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Product Details

Product Description

About the Author

Merrill R. (Rick) Chapman is the author of the first edition of this book. 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 US Software Channel Marketing and Distribution Guide, and periodically writes articles about software and high-tech marketing for a variety of publications.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars How to lose friends and bankrupt people July 14 2006
By Daniel Jolley TOP 50 REVIEWER
Years ago, on Saturday Night Live, there was a Jeopardy skit, and one of the contestants (played by Adam Sandler) answered every question (or questioned every answer) the same way: "Who is the marketing genius who came up with this one?" (or something akin to those words). I thought about that old SNL sketch many times as I read through this fascinating book. In Search of Stupidity is in many ways a history of the personal computer business and the radical changes that have taken place over the years. All manner of companies have crashed and burned during this time. Big Blue nosedived from its place of blue-chip royalty, Netscape shot itself in the foot, countless startups dot.came and dot.went, and a shocking number of other important companies disappeared. After reading this book, one can no longer ask why Microsoft came to rule the roost; Bill Gates made fewer stupid mistakes than his would-be competitors. And, yes, stupid is not too strong a word; it's the only way to describe the suicidal deaths of so many high-tech legends of yesteryear.

This book really brought back some memories for me: visions of my old Commodore 64, for example, as well as Coleco's Adam (a system I absolutely lusted after as a kid); it also introduced me to products and services I do not remember. It's amazing to look back now and see just how differently things could have gone in the high-tech business had stupidity not taken down many an important player in the game. At one time, three companies led the way: Microsoft (with its DOS operating system), Lotus (with its spreadsheets), and Ashton-Tate (with its databases) - oh, how things have changed. Merrill R.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wickedly funny with lessons to learn... May 28 2004
In Search Of Stupidity - Over 20 Years Of High-Tech Marketing Disasters by Merrill R. Chapman (Apress) is a wickedly funny read with some very real lessons on how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Chapman takes a look back at the first two decades of the high-tech industry to see how companies with dominant product leads squandered those advantages to become irrelevant (or non-existent). The examples are numerous... IBM and the PC, Micropro and Wordstar, Novell and Netware. He actually worked for some of the companies that are under the microscope, so there is an insider's color and flavor that you don't normally see from a customer perspective. Because of the biting style of writing, the book doesn't suffer from a lofty "anyone could see this coming" attitude that so many of these historical examinations seem to adopt.
Back to the writing style... Chapman has a satirical, wicked wit that is used to maximum advantage here. Even if you weren't terribly interested in the content, it would be worth a read for the laughs. I haven't enjoyed a business book this much in a long time.
And by the way... Don't pass up the glossary at the end. It's the cherry on top of a great sundae.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Humorous History of High-Tech Gaffes May 17 2004
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
This book is designed to be the counterpart to the Tom Peters and Bob Waterman best seller since 1982, In Search of Excellence. I agree that it makes more sense to check out stupidity than excellence. Most people tell me that they learn more from seeing disasters than from reading about top performance. In addition, time has cast doubt on the wisdom of what those "excellent" companies did since so many of them have tanked since then.
Why would anyone want to read about all of the stupid things that companies have done since the early 1980s to lose money, destroy customer relationships, go bankrupt and annoy everyone? Well, it should be because almost everyone makes a fatal error in a high tech company. Only Microsoft among the software companies has avoided that folly. Among PC companies, only Dell seems immune to date. Intel flirted with a fatal error when it tried to ignore its Pentium floating point problem. $500 million later, it was wiser.
Another good reason for reading about them is that Mr. Chapman is a very funny writer. He makes the stories very entertaining. He also was present at some of the most inauspicious moments which gives the stories an extra verve that's irresistible.
I especially enjoyed the afterword which explained in detail why it's always a stupid idea to rewrite working code from scratch to create the next release.
I agree with the conclusion that tech companies need to be headed by people who understand the technical issues and the business challenges so they can make informed decisions about what to do next. I also suggest that investors read this book to get early warning signs of high tech meltdowns.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great, funny, and insightful April 23 2004
By A Customer
One thing that impressed me about the book is how Chapman *doesn't* just hit easy targets or take cheap shots. He convincingly shows that the incidents of stupidity he describes were very much *avoidable*, made by people who really should've known better.
The only minor complaint I have is with the interview in the appendix, which:
1. Only has a tangential relationship to the main part of the book, and is really about programming, and
2. Is really, really clueless *about* programming.
There's probably 1/3 of a good point there (programmers are inherently drawn to recoding from the ground up, "Take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. That's the only way to be sure" solutions, so one should be skeptical), but stretched to a wildly dumb conclusion (rewriting code from the ground up is *never* justifiable!) They ignore a lot of obvious problems (e.g., the obvious fact that kludgy software is very difficult to maintain, and that multiple kludges interact with *each other* to exponentially increase bugginess.)
In fact, one might almost call it... stupidity? :)
But you can just skip the appendix, which is actually kinda nice just as a reminder that, yes, even really smart people like the author aren't completely immune to stupidity....
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining walk down memory lane.
The author describes his experience and observations around famous failures in software industry. The language is very entertaining. Read more
Published on June 2 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and educational account of marketing mistakes
It was great to get to hear both some clarifications of urban legend and some reflection on what was messed up by people in the industry. Read more
Published on May 3 2004 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars If you don't know this, you WILL be in the next edition
This book IS timely. The DotCom busts were easy to analyze, even at the time (D'uh!) - no brick and mortar, no estute business plans, just vapor, b.s. Read more
Published on April 1 2004 by Steve Frock
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected
When I picked up this book, I expected it to have more depth of recent dot-com busts than about software companies that tanked years ago. Read more
Published on March 29 2004 by Antonio A. Rodriguez
5.0 out of 5 stars You could not make this stuff up...
Chapman offers a caustic and often hilarious first-person Silicon Valley memoir with a biased point of view: stupid is as stupid does. Read more
Published on March 8 2004 by WordScarred
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful chronicle of hi-tech industry
This is one of the best books I've read about what's gone wrong with the high-tech industry. Chapman has the answers, told through stories that are witty, and yet provide useful... Read more
Published on Feb. 24 2004 by Dan Speers
5.0 out of 5 stars ROI
One of the most enjoyable books I have read regarding the business of high tech. Reading some of the previous reviews, I guess not everyone agrees. Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rorschach Test for Your Company and the Industry
I bought this book after it was recommended to me by a friend who I'd worked with at Novell during the period that Merril Chapman describes, during the 90s when Microsoft was... Read more
Published on Feb. 2 2004 by Dave Z
1.0 out of 5 stars There is a fundamental problem with this book...
The fundamental problem with this book is that the author only writes about dead companies where he used to work. That's fine, but hardly objective or very informative. Read more
Published on Feb. 1 2004
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