Book Review – Code Name Ginger

As I mentioned in a comment hre on the blog, I am a huge fan of Steve Jobs and the Apple Industrial Design. in fact, it seems all my favorite books about corporations have one thing in common–Steve Jobs. That being said, they are often quite good books in their own right.

I have decided to start reviewing some of my “favorite” books. More often than not, they will be about Corporate America–and about the way it works (or doesn’t.) It turns out I am as intrigued as the next person at how firms develop new products, how leadership shapes a company to develop the products that it does, and the like. I am also quite interested in how ideas are shared, and how “we” as humans arrive at conclusions. All that being said–these are the general themes you will find in the books I read and review.

The first book out of the gate is “Code Name Ginger” by Steve Kemper. (Released now in paperback, it is re-titled “REINVENTING THE WHEEL: A Story of Genius, Innovation, and Grand Ambition”)

You may remember a few years back when the Segway transportation device was introduced. It’s the two wheeled personal transportation device that “senses” how you want to move, and just goes, maintaining balance for you–on only two wheels. I have had the opportunity to ride on one of these, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, even setting up a slalom course in the middle of a conference’s exhibition hall to have timed races.

This book is about the creation of that vehicle. It chronicles the evolution, from idea, through many phases of development, and through product introduction. What makes this book so interesting is the way the author pulls the curtain back, and reveals the way the key players think. In many instances, he puts in words what many people sense–for instance, engineers and managers and marketing folks don’t get along. He also brings out, however, how failing to recognize the value that each bring to an endeavour will be harmful, and perhaps even catastrophic.

Dean Kamen, the genius behind the Segway, did not want to listen to industrial design folks. He didn’t want to listen to manufacturing experts, and he certainly wanted nothing to do with “marketing” folks. Kamer documents a genius who was so secretive he wouldn’t let his marketing folks do a marketing analysis, who didn’t trust the manufacturing experts to take the design and translate it into a produceable product, and didn’t like the design engineers who spent time transforming the product from an industrial idea into a sleek, and safe, product.

At risk of sounding like a “Reading Rainbow” book review, I don’t want to reveal the exciting conclusion. This book has a few interesting twists, and turns, and features a cast of the most recognizable names in finance and technology. Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs were two of the first to buy into the product, and invest. They saw the vision, and the hope for this product. Unfortunately, when the rich elite see the value in a $10,000 toy, and feed the ego of the creator, it’s hard to listen to the voices of the marketing folks who told Dean Kamen it was over priced, and not that practical.

I have done a terrible dis-service to this book in my brief telling of the story, but I am sure of one thing–if you pick up this book, you will not be able to put it down. It is an exciting read, and certainly a weekend well spent.



4 thoughts on “Book Review – Code Name Ginger

  1. Hmm.. this actually sounds interesting… wonder if I could review it for a class of mine on Wednesay nights…. Anyways, I happen to like ‘reading rainbow’ reviews. 😉 lol…

  2. Frankly, I like reading rainbow reviews too, so don’t knock them.

    The book sounds interesting. What did you get out of the book? Was there a cathartic moment for you? You know.. that “aha!” moment. I’m reading this fantastic book now that I just take with me everywhere by Robert Greene. Not exactly a management book, but I suppose it could be. I just don’t get that from many books these days.

  3. I am not sure if there was an “aha” moment for me when reading. This book really drew me in early on with my interest in “how things work” (both mechanical things and organization things.)

    Perhaps what I “got” out of the book was a certain codifaction of what I had suspected all along–engineers are different. That in itself isn’t helpful, but what was, for me, helpful, was then being able to understand how they think differently, and be able to help the engineers I work with understand how to move forward in the business world.

    **wrote long example, then deleted it… perhaps will make it a soul-baring post**

  4. I can understand that. I recently became friends with (and stopped being friends with) an engineer who just from talking with him. I could tell he thought out things in a different way. He went on to describe how the original gun on duck hunt worked but the whole thinking process he used seemed very odd to me. I eventually got what he was trying to say but getting there took some effort. My grandfather was an engineer and his mind worked differently too. Not as in a bad thing, but I agree understanding that difference can make things a lot easier on all concerned… lol…

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