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In Search of Stupidity: the Best Marketing Book of the Year

by Merrill (Rick) Chapman
US$24.99, Cdn$34.95 (C$24.50 at Amazon.ca)

      review by Gordon Graham

This book is a gem. From start to finish, its irreverent tone and right-on analysis made it impossible for me to put down. Iíd say that In Search of Stupidity is simply the best book of the year for anyone in high-tech marketing.

With a style thatís been described as "National Lampoon meets Peter Drucker" veteran software marketer Rick Chapman chronicles the entire history of the PC industry, from Altair to Xerox. With lots of juicy anecdotes and witty commentary, it's a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Chapman boils everything down to one simple principle: you donít have to be brilliant to succeed in this life; you just have to be less stupid than the other guy.

Along the way, he dispenses illuminating tips on pricing, positioning, branding, and PR. While his views are sometimes at odds with the accepted wisdom taught in MBA classes, his perspective always rings.

Most of the book is devoted to the dozens of blunders committed by many otherwise successful, multi-million dollar companies. These include truly boneheaded moves such as having two products with the very same name, rewriting a flagship product from scratch while a competitor eats the company's lunch, declaring war on the third-party developers that helped a company become the industry standard, and generally fiddling while Rome burns and their empires collapse.

Few companies escape his survey, including Microsoft and intel, which actually managed to survive a few of their own blunders. Remember the Pentium bug? That classic case of how to mishandle a crisis wound up costing intel $500 million. Remember Bill Gates' videotaped deposition? That shifty-eyed performance cracked his carefully built persona as a harmless geek and helped the Department of Justice win its case.

Yet both companies are still doing nicely. In fact, these two blunders only confirm Chapman's central thesis. Aside from a few isolated incidents, intel and Microsoft are usually less stupid than their competitors.

Thatís why, unlike many commentators, Chapman isn't so hard on Microsoft. He argues that despite the company's unsavory behavior, many of its competitors seemed quite willing to shoot themselves in the head with dumb marketing decisions.

For example, Digital Research priced the CP/M-86 operating system for the early IBM PC at $240 while Microsoft sold DOS for just $40. Years later, Borland desperately reduced the price of the Quattro spreadsheet to $29.95 while Microsoft sold Excel for hundreds of dollars more. In each case, Microsoft was rewarded with growing sales mainly for getting their pricing right.

I can heartily recommend this book to anyone in high-tech marketing, sales or management. If you havenít already read In Search of Stupidity, put it on your Christmas list. If you have, get another copy and slip it to your company's marketing executives as a thoughtful gift. After all, you don't want your company to wind up in Rick's sequel.

This review appeared in Impact! the newsletter of the Marketing Communication SIG of the Society for Technical Communication in the Fall & Winter 2003/4 issue.

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Last updated:
February 16, 2004

Review © 2003-4 by
Gordon Graham




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