In Search of Stupidity, 2nd Edition
Rick Chapman's book, In Search
of Stupidity, is now available in its second edition. It is both fun and
insightful. Highly recommended.
I was honored that Rick and Apress asked me to write the
foreword for this edition. The text of my foreword appears below.
I love this book. In telling stories about some of the
finest fiascos in our industry, the author adds unique insight and humor. The
result is a book that is both readable and worth reading. That's a powerful
combination that I find increasingly uncommon. I was a fan of the first
edition of "Stupidity," and I am honored to be writing this foreword for the
I am particularly fond of the title of this book. Taken
completely out of context, it suggests that if you want to find stupidity in
our industry, you have to search for it. I envision a typical person who
wanders accidentally into the software and computers section at his local
bookstore. He sees this book on the shelf and believes that stupidity in
high-tech is difficult to find.
Aw, never mind that. People are not so easily fooled.
Anybody who reads the newspaper can easily look at our industry and see that
stupidity is like beer at an NFL football game: Half the people have got
plenty of it and they keep spilling it on the other half.
As of August 2006, here is what the average person knows
about the world of high tech products:
- The FBI just spent 170 million dollars on a software
project that completely failed and delivered nothing useful. Most of us
would have been willing to deliver them nothing useful for a mere 85
million or so.
- We each get 50 emails a week from eBay, none of which
actually came from eBay. So we find somebody who knows about computers
and ask why, and he starts spewing stuff that sounds like Star Trek
- The movie industry wants us to buy all our DVDs again so
we can see them in "high definition", but they can't decide which new
format they want. Either way, this comes in the nick of time, because as
we all know, the central problem with DVD technology is the atrocious
- The time between the initial release of Windows XP and
Windows Vista is roughly the life span of a dog, and apparently the main
new feature is that it will be harder to use digital music and video
content. Oh yeah, and it looks prettier.
The world of high-tech is fouled up beyond all
recognition, and everybody knows it.
But everybody loves reading about it. When it comes to failed
software projects or dumb marketing mistakes, the mainstream news media is
eager to print anything they can get their hands on. Nobody writes stories
about software projects or marketing efforts that succeed.
The funny part is that most of the stupidity never makes it
into print. Those of us inside the industry know that things are actually even
stupider than the perspective in the press. For example, most people know that
whenever Microsoft announces a new product they give it a really boring name that
nobody can remember. But those of us inside the industry know that the boring
name was immediately preceded by a "code name" which was memorable or even
clever. It's almost like Microsoft has a department whose mission is to make
sure their public image always looks lame and pedestrian compared to Apple.
And let's not forget that stupidity can show up in success
as well as failure. Do you know the inside story of the Motorola RAZR? In the
original plan, the powers-that-be at Motorola were convinced that the RAZR
would be a "boutique phone", a niche product that would appeal to only a small
segment of the market. They ordered enough components to make 50,000 of them.
In the first quarter of production, the wireless companies placed orders for
over a million units. Motorola had the most popular cell phone on the market,
and they were completely unprepared for it. It took them a year to get
production capacity up to meet the demand. Today, Motorola is shipping RAZR
phones at a pace that is equivalent to selling 50,000 of them every morning
In the news media, on the message boards, and here in this
book, stories about product disasters in our industry are a lot of fun to read.
That's why the first edition of this book was great, and this
one is even better. I applaud the author for the changes he has made in the
second revision, giving more specific attention to the matter of learning from
the marketing mistakes made by others. I imagine there are lots of people who
will enjoy that kind of thing.
But truth be told, not all of us aspire to such a high and
If you are like me, you probably lied to yourself about why
you wanted to read this book. You told yourself how great it would be to learn
from the mistakes of others. In reality, we don't want to learn -- we want to gloat.
We like to watch things crash and burn. This book is the marketing equivalent
of the car chase scene from Terminator 3.
Wielders of clichés would say that misery loves company.
Call it what you will, but let's just admit it together: We like to read about
products and marketing efforts that exploded in a ball of flame. It helps us
feel better about our own stupidity.
And in my opinion, that's okay. In the vast constellation
of unhealthy vices and guilty pleasures, this book isn't really all that