Anti-Trend Inc.
February 03, 2012, 01:07 PM
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In the late 1980s, my wife discovered this product that made my hair look great. But, the company that made it immediately went out of business. Over time, we started to notice a pattern: whatever product I liked would quickly tank in the marketplace. 

Obviously, most of these extinct favorites of mine are completely forgotten by now, but let me give one example that a few people of a certain age might still remember: Lotus 123 3.0. The 1.0 release of this spreadsheet in 1983 was an epochal hit, establishing the software standard for IBM PC compatibility. The 3.0 release, which came out around 1990 or 1991, was elegantly three dimensional: almost anything you could do in two dimensions on one spreadsheet, such as summing the contents of adjacent cells, you could just easily do in three dimensions across stacked worksheets. You could build a workbook out of 13 worksheets, one for each month and one aggregating the whole year. You could build graphs across each month's worksheet. 

Thus, for example, I built a sales forecasting system for the marketing research company where I worked where each region had their own single sheet based on a template I'd designed. Each week, they'd Fed Ex me a copy and I would aggregate them into one workbook with a top sheet summing up the national forecast on the underlying regional sheets. It was a piece of cake because it worked exactly as visualized.

In 1993, I was hired by the other big firm in the industry to build them a similar system. The only difference was I had to do it in Microsoft Excel because they had standardized on that. What a nightmare. Even though I knew exactly what I was doing, it took me three times as long to re-design it in Excel. I spent 50 or 100 hours on the phone with Microsoft technical support over the random things that in Excel worked in 2d but turned out not to work in 3d. The weird thing was that, as far as I can tell, I was the only customer in the world who missed the 3d nature of 1-2-3 3.0 when switching to Excel. Nobody at Microsoft could grasp what I was whining about — Why would you want to be able to do things across worksheets that you can do within worksheets? — and none of the PC magazines seemed to notice this lack in Excel.

(When software executive Jim Manzi became a pundit, I wrote him a long email thanking him for 1-2-3 3.0. He wrote back to say that that was a different software executive named Jim Manzi who had been head of Lotus.)
Eventually, after countless examples of whatever products I particularly liked going out of business, my wife suggested that I should start my own marketing research company to test new product ideas. It would use a sample size of one: me. I would just sit in a room and be handed potential products. If I liked the widget, the client's board of directors should immediately fire their CEO. If I really liked it, the board should liquidate the firm immediately for whatever it could get.
I was reminded of all this when reading this Chicago Tribune article:
Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo says there's nothing funny about a commercial featuring suit-and-tie wearing chimpanzees scheduled to air Sunday during the Super Bowl.   

When I lived in Chicago, I spent many hours watching chimpanzees in the Great Ape house of the Lincoln Park Zoo. 
Stephen Ross, assistant director of the zoo's Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, says CareerBuilder.com's commercial showing chimps outsmarting a human co-worker

I can quite believe that a chimp dressed in a suit and tie would have a higher rate of predicting what would be a hit product than I would.
actually poses a risk to chimpanzees because people lose sight of the fact they're an endangered species and become less likely to help save them.  
Ross has made this pitch every year the company featured chimps in commercials but now he's hoping a recent Duke University study supporting his argument might help turn public opinion against the commercials. 
I recently predicted that the use of chimpanzees in advertisements and movies was doomed because Americans are slowly coming to understand that chimps belong in Africa. But it's interesting that this professional is using a quite different argument to argue for the same end. Poor Dr. Ross probably doesn't realize it, but his cause is likely doomed because I predicted he will succeed.