June 2, 2003

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - Code Name Ginger

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 4:29 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Code Name Ginger: The Story Behind Segway and Dean Kamens Quest to Invent a New World by Steve Kemper, Harvard Business School Press, 290 Pages, $27.95 Hardcover, June 2003, ISBN 1578516730
I remember those many years ago when I first heard about this change the world product that was being developed. Heavyweights like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs were saying that the world would never be the same once this secret was released. Code Name Ginger is the really inside story of the development of that secretGinger, which ended up being called Segway Human Transporter. The machine is a fascinating idea that is like a scooter on steroids. The Segway reacts to your desires by sensing what you want it to do by using an elaborate system of gyros. Lean forward, it goes forward. Imagine the design process for this machineway out-of-the-box stuff!
Author Steve Kemper followed the development of the Segway from the beginning. He was given unrestricted access the all the design meetings, all the money meetings, everything. As a reader, you are absolutely a fly on the wall. You listen and watch the venture capital guys trying to give the developers more money just to increase their shares of the company even more. Everybody wanted in on this thing.
After being sucked into the whirlwind and excitement of the development of the Segway, I found myself saying: wait a minute. Where is the practical application to this machine? Yes, the cities are over-crowded and public transportation is a mess. Yes, it would be great to have a $2k (now $5k, by the way) machine that would move people and doesnt emit bad things into the atmosphere, but lets get serious. Wouldnt it be nice to at least have a basket to carry your groceries in on the way home? Which leads us to Gingers heartbreaking fizzle in the marketplace.
This is an extremely well written narrative about an extremely fascinating subject, an extremely fascinating group of people, which fail spectacularly. More than just a story, the book delivers important lessons about everything in business from the dream to financing, marketing to entrepreneurship, and buzz to flop. A fun summer read!