Review of A Different Take On Our Technical Times...by Allan Branch


            There is a time honored aphorism in marketing. It goes, “Everyone

is lining up to be second,” and this wonderful little book by Nels Winkless

goes on to explain why. 300 plus pages, at once entertaining and informative,

like all of Winkess’s books, of the most amazing collection of tales, vignettes,

anecdotes, and personal experiences, as only someone whose life has been

at the coalface of technological innovation could write.

            That quote is not the whole summary of marketing. All markets consist

of two types of products: “me toos” and “new categories.” The later becomes

the former if it is successful. Which is almost never. This is the basis of the so

called “Pyramid Marketing Model”, which Winkless describes as trying “to

develop a critical mass.” As he points out, “Good ideas are a dime a dozen,

[those that] succeed in society are not as common.”

            His humor and deprecation can easily disguise how valuable this memoir

can be for any marketer, business person, company founder or inventor. It should

be required reading, along with “Future Shock”, “The New New Thing”, “The

Soul in the Machine”, or “The Tipping Point.” This is a book you cannot put

down.

            Nels’ knowledge and hands-on experience is vast, and his intelligent

mind races at the speed of thought (!), so it would be easy to become lost in

his enormous repertoire, moving with ease from computers (his forté and his

passion), to atomic bombs to water toxicity testing, to cancer tests, to robot

eggs. But that never happens. He avoids this through clever analogies, like the

influence of JIT manufacturing being to computer productivity as single floor

factories were to the industrial revolution. Similarly he shows how avoiding

lunch with Quist can ruin your oil interests, and how similar Martians are to

conquistadors.

            It is hard sometimes to determine if Winkless is an advocate of

technology or a soothsayer of doom. He is certainly a patriotic American. He

says, “We have influence over what happens, never control,” and points out

the danger of complacency. Methinks he is frustrated with the waste and

slippage and inefficiency of technological revolutions. He wants more of what

he calls the “accidents”. He laments that humans don’t learn from their lessons,

they “are hard to teach.”

            His exploration of the dangers of knowing too much is interesting and

relevant today, where we are encouraged to monitor each other in case the

other is “different”, (he even discusses federal examinations of patents in case

you invented something too big for you). Morwell indeed.

            After describing childhood and early life experiences from Hollywood

and movies, to Stanford and particle accelerators, to New Mexico and

microcomputers, to Boston and trade magazines, parts of which have the feel

of Oliver Sachs, Winkless gets to the heart of the problem with new technology commercialization, including his take on investment finance; the personalities of

the players; communicating the message, particularly the benefits, clearly; and

the difference between a raw technology and its applications, an Altair versus an

Osborne for example.

            The book is full of examples of the “lining up to be second” maxim:

heterodyning, listening, fish toxicity testing, modulated ultrasound bacteriology,

noninert inert gasses, but nothing comes as close as the background of the personal

computer revolution, and one cannot help but think that being second might be a

euphemism for stealing.

            After identifying several technologies and ideas yet to have someone come

in to succeed at being second, like artificial intelligence, robotics, Nels summarizes

with the personal hurt associated with change, which after all is what this is all about.

Typically, he draws on yet another technology, the biochemistry of memory, to

strengthen his point.

            Do yourself a favor and read this hugely informative and entertaining book

 

Copyright © 2009

Allan Branch.

Australia, June 2009

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NOTE: Allan Branch is a consultant, entrepreneur, and robotics expert of

distinction. See his bio at: http://www.southcom.com.au/~robot/acb.html