Nordic Track Book Club Review: In Search of Stupidity

I knew about Rick Chapman’s In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters for a while now and finally bought it.  I enjoyed it more than any other book I read in a while because I lived (as a geek) every chapter, starting in the late 80’s and on through to Present Day.  With almost every experience Chapman describes in the book I remember wondering, “What in the heck are they thinking???”  And geeze, that was before I became the smart fellow I am today. J

I remember wondering why MicroPro wasn’t releasing a new version of Wordstar, and, Why was Ed Esber of Ashton-Tate such a butthead? Then later, why in the world is Philippe Kahn buying dBase???

Chapman is such an excellent writer.  In Search of Stupidity was based on the 1982 In Search of Excellence, featuring many companies no longer in existence because of being stupid.  In the introduction is a wonderful reference to that original work, Was [Microsoft’s success] due to respect for the individual espoused in Search of Excellence?  Well, Bill Gates once stood up at the start of a presentation being given by a new product manager, fixed the unfortunate fellow with a cold stare, and asked, “Where the fuck did we hire you from?” before leaving the room.

Or this, from the introduction, With stupidity, your reach never exceeds your grasp; any company, no matter how large or small, can aspire to commit acts of skull-numbing idiocy and have a hope of success.

I feel like I’m the last geek to read this book, but if I’m not you should consider this fun read, especially if you’re a geezer nerd like me and lived through it.  The next time I read it I’m going to spend more time investigating the wealth of footnotes and references. 

Here is the table of contents.

  • First Movers, First Mistakes: IBM, Digital Research, Apple, and Microsoft.
  • A Rather Nutty Tale: IBM and the PC Junior
  • Positioning Puzzlers: MicroPro and Microsoft
  • We Hate You, We Really Really Hate You: Ed Esber and Ashton-Tate
  • The Idiot Paper: OS/2 and IBM
  • Frenchman Eats Frog, Chokes to Death: Borland and Philippe Kahn
  • Brands for the Burning: Intel and Motorola
  • From Godzilla to Gecko: The Long Slow Decline of Novell
  • Ripping PR Yarns: Microsoft and Netscape
  • Purple Haze All Through my Brain: The Internet and ASP Busts


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A long time developer, I was an early adopter of Linux in the mid-90's for a few years until I entered corporate environments and worked with Microsoft technologies like ASP, then .NET. In 2008 I released Sueetie, an Online Community Platform built in .NET. In late 2012 I returned to my Linux roots and locked in on Java development. Much of my work is available on GitHub.