Dependent Origination

A Chinese book :)

Posted on: May 17, 2013

First Chinese book I have read for a while (in a year?). I am not sure what I should write down about the book — namely how honest I should be when writing my reviews🙂 I met the author over a cocktail reception barely two weeks ago. Cocktail reception is a strange place — in the end you always end up talking with people who are at roughly the same social status/career placement as you. So it is no big deal that the author didn’t really pay any attention to me even if I tried a few conversation starters, such as when he mentioned he is starting up on his own inside his old employer and his payouts are based on the successes of his endeavors, I inquired about the general direction of the project but he just ignored me. It was not a good feeling, so maybe that affected my impression about the book?

I read fairly closely for the first ten chapters or so. The author is certainly very knowledgeable about the histories of all these companies — understanding how companies grow into giants and how giants collapse is certainly very useful, say, for investing. It is remarkable that he accumulated this much knowledge and tried to dissect this many companies and made his own conclusion about how technology will evolve and how companies will evolve in the future.

However, it feels too big a topic for the author to tackle. He wrote about at least ten, possibly twenty companies, with their early days, how did they make it, what are their major milestones/contributions, and what were the strategic mistakes or wins. The chapters are not that long — the book not that thick either. So he tried his hand at formulating a theory about technology through examples of 10 – 20 companies in a very short amount of time. His details need to be checked (at least for companies I am more familiar with, such as Apple). But besides that, the oversimplification of what happened and why what happened happened makes the effort of writing a history of prominent Sillicon Valley companies in the hope of understanding the past and predicting the future dubious. It makes you in fact wonder can past successes be repeated at all. So many factors, luck most of all, contributed to a success or failure. With the help of looking back, everything appears to be crystal clear, or so it feels. But is the perception or interpretation of historical events helpful at all? Especially when done in such simplified version? Each of the companies deserves more than a single book dedicated to them (and in fact there are multiple books focused on their past in the market). I feel this book, while it gives a decent introduction to the world of technology companies, is not doing justice to any of them, had the reader had a basic understanding of business and companies under discussion. In fact, in a sense, I feel that reading related questions on Quora can probably help people gain more insight about the past and the why’s.

The book has very good reviews in the Chinese audience but unfortunately I don’t think it is that good for someone who lives and probably on average works for two or even three of the companies in the past ten  or fifteen years. I didn’t find his writing particularly good either — he is certainly clear and logical but I have read better technical or business writings. This concludes the here-after of a less-than-ideal cocktail party meeting🙂

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