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Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, the First Personal Computer Paperback – Import, 1 May 1999
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About the Author
Doug Smith has drawn the lessons for "On Value and Values" from hiswork across more than 40 industries and professions as a teacher, lawyer, writer, historian, consultant, and thinker. Named in "The GuruGuide" as one of the worldOs leading management thinkers, he is author orcoauthor of five books, including "Make Success Measurable," "TheDiscipline of Teams, Taking Charge of Change," and the internationalbestsellers "The Wisdom of Teams and Fumbling the Future: " "How XeroxInvented Then Ignored Personal Computing," His work has been featured in"Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, The Harvard Business Review, TheNew York Times," and "The McKinsey Quarterly," and has been cited forinnovation and impact by experts ranging from Tom Peters to WarrenBennis. Smith holds a B.A. from Yale and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.He lives in LaGrangeville, New York
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Under the surface, Xerox suffered from many weaknesses related to management’s poor understanding of how to run a computer business. This dragged Xerox into a downward spiral of poor investment decisions, mismanagement, disjointed business strategies, and conflicts among departments. When Xerox reached its weakest point, lawsuits and a financial recession drained the company of vital resources and began to dig a grave for Xerox executives’ hopes and dreams. The company suffered a colossal financial loss.
This is a rich historical case study that retains its relevance today. Unlike many case studies, this one recognizes the human element of business decision-making and delves quite deeply into it. The text identifies managers responsible for Xerox’s poor decisions and explains how their personalities and their relationships with others influenced the company’s direction. This unique perspective is invaluable. Another positive is that the chapters are rich with contextual information surrounding Xerox’s actions and will not leave readers wondering why or how important events occurred. Each chapter is chalked full of clear examples of missed opportunities and poor decision-making, but also highlights effective decisions and how/when they turned into poor ones. The book will more than satisfy those who are eager for detail and hungry for context.
A business reader who values succinctness may find a lot of the information superfluous. The abundance of detail can occasionally distract from vital aspects of the case. Readers may have to mentally weed-out less relevant details to gain a stronger grasp of the situation. Additionally, there are many different character names, which can make it easy to confuse protagonists. The book’s organization is not entirely chronological either. There are frequent jumps in time, which can result in a misunderstanding of the timeline of events and dates. The beginning of the book dives deeply into the technologies developed at Xerox and the technological evolution of computing. Although interesting, this level of depth is not needed to understand the case; some may find it excessive and tedious to read. Lastly, the latter half of the book becomes repetitive, as certain events are repeated from different points of view. Overall, the educational value of this book far outweighs its shortcomings.
The book starts with describing the history of Xerox, where they came from and how they became already a large company before the famous PARC lab. It continues with a thread that runs throughout the book, the speech from the CEO which sets the vision for the company as "the architecture of information." This vision led to the creation of PARC and drove the research efforts in the lab.
Bob Taylor who earlier ran the ARPANet efforts, was invited to run the PARC lab (or, to do the recruiting). Bob got people he knew from his earlier ARPA effort and quickly gathered a huge amount of talent in the lab. They started their research and invented e.g. PCs, ethernet, laser printer, and word processors. This technology was more advanced than the things outside of PARC lab.
Xerox, as an organization, failed to exploit the advantages in technology because of organizational politics. Most of the book describes these in fairly much detail. Several camps existed within Xerox management who could not get along. The ex-Ford people, who had the most amount of power within Xerox for a while, ignored the things coming out of PARC. There was even friction between the head of research and Bob Taylor as Bob created an us-them atmosphere which might have helped the research but definitively not the exploitation of it.
In the end, people started leaving PARC lab. Politics within the lab grew stronger and stronger and eventually Bob Taylor got fired. Many senior researchers followed them to his new job and the period of major inventions within PARC ceased.
At first, I was disappointed by this book. It seemed to make minor mistakes related to technology. The authors are not experts in technology. Later, I got over my disappointment and enjoyed the detailed description of the politics within the management. It's rare to read such a detailed account of what goes on within a company over many of years. That perspective of the book I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend it for that. If you expect a book about the creation of the technology within PARC, then this is not the book for you however.
Recommended, though not a 5 star book. 4 stars.
This book got mangled on its way to the Kindle. There are many, many typographical errors, often several per page. From what I see, it appears that the book was converted using optical character recognition, since most of the errors are easily understood from that point of view--extra spaces inserted, characters interpreted as if graphically altered or merged, confusion of the letter l and the number 1, and so on. A book of this quality deserved a post-edit from a human editor, though even Microsoft Word's spell-checker would have caught many of the errors. At least the price has been lowered to reflect the low quality. Caveat Emptor.
I was amazed to discover all the things PARC invented and THEN shocked to see how many at Xerox headquarters were openly hostile to their gifted-child.
I expected this book to be a heavy handed hatchet-job, but found it fairly balanced. Ego problems were rampant on both coasts. Multiple people made multiple mistakes.
Xerox was Wall Street's wunder-company in the Sixties, but Smith shows how run-away costs & quality problems crippled their basic copier business in the Seventies. Xerox mgmt didn't just fumble the future, they crumbled their present. Kodak & Canon both chopped Xerox "off at the knees" with better, cheaper, faster copiers. The phrase "hemorrhaging cash" comes up several times.