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Harry McCracken: Understanding industry trends & new products requires the accuracy of consummate bird watchers.

September 16th, 2010 · 2 Comments · Talents, Innovators

By Marylene Delbourg-Delphis @mddelphis

HarrySometimes when I go to a party or to a conference, I think of Dr. Seuss’s If I Ran the Zoo, and look for the most interesting people around, i.e. those who combine some exotic traits with an outstanding intellect and an extraordinary kindness – an endearing subspecies of “nerds.” Quite a few people in the Valley fit the bill, and one of them is definitely Harry McCracken.

The art of ethics: a sure methodology for long-term success: I first met Harry in the early the 1990’s. As disappointed as I was to see that he was not interested in a database running on Macintosh for InfoWorld Direct, I couldn’t help being somewhat appreciative of his direct, yet perfectly courteous, manner. The Mac was not his thing – it was as simple as that. In fact, I valued his straightforward honesty, along with his somewhat unruly hairdo and his musing smile. I didn’t think of this for well over a decade – until, in May 2007, I learned in the New York Times about his sudden resignation and reinstatement as the Editor-in-Chief of PC World subsequent to “a disputed article,” 10 Things We Hate About Apple by Narasu Rebbapragada and Alan Stafford.

I loved the fact that the blogosphere did care about journalistic integrity and McCracken, and the incident was a way for me to reconnect with what he was up to professionally. His review of Leopard in October of 2007 (How Leopard demolishes Vista) actually impressed me. Obviously he knew the Mac in and out. I became a regular reader of Technologizer when he started this blog in 2008, steadily admiring his ability to be a whole magazine just by himself. Clearly, he is one of the best writers in the industry: thorough, conscientious, and ethical – with the rare quality of seizing on trends without jumping naively on bandwagons. He is an influencer because he is a journalist at heart.

Smelling and feeling trends: What gives some people the ability to smell trends is complex. Yes, you have to be so immersed in a domain or so constantly exposed to novelty that you simply can’t miss what’s happening.  That’s not enough, though, because you may simply be a bandwagoner.  To be a meaningful influencer, make out interesting trends or, even harder, interesting products, you need more: to work hard, have the huge memory to process and cross-reference information quickly, be authentically willing to try new things yourself, and be hands-on. But you also need a deep sense of observation. This latter requirement is ultimately the most difficult to keep over the years. Few people are able to observe, or more precisely, to keep the agility and accuracy of consummate bird watchers, in a world where the tendency is to do everything in order to be looked at and become a center of interest (which influences the perception of the outside world with the wrong filters). I really like McCracken’s ability to be constantly attentive. He has the intensely scrutinizing and benevolent look of the people who have the special talent of guarding themselves from knowing it all, and instead, want to marvel at things and people.


The Harry Technologizer who used his dad’s TRS-80 when he was 14 and created a TRS-80 users’ group’s newsletter when he was 16 is really the same person as the Harry-Go-Round who was fascinated by comics and animation when he was one year old, and continues to keep an eye open for interesting details on cartoons, illustrations or Scrappy-related items. After all, great journalists/influencers are fantastic ass-kickers, always on for additional adventures: Harry is now “making time” for TIME Magazine and guess what is first column is about? Read: Where Are the Rivals to Apple’s iPad?

Drawing by John Cuneo

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