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The Fallacy Of Predictions
The future as envisioned by Firestone in 1945. A land of blue skies, personal helicopters, streamlined trucks and teardrop-shaped cars passing art deco buildings at 120 mph.

Nevertheless, 60-plus years later, vehicles are still rolling on rubber tires and Firestone is still making them.

Every week, hordes of "experts" crawl out of damp and musty places to make predictions about impact of the next wave of technology. Or the next generation of management science. Or future business conditions. All of which will affect how you market your products and services and how you run your company. Are these predictions to be believed?

Let's take a look at some things said by experts in times past:

"Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for future improvements."
Julius Frontenus, 10 AD

"What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice the speed of stagecoaches?"
'Quarterly Review', 1825

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."
Western Union, 1878

"I do believe in the horse. The automobile is no more than a transitory phenomenon."
Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor, 1886

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."
Lord Kelvin, president - Royal Society, 1895

"Everything that can be invented has been invented."
Charles H. Duell, an official at the US patent office, 1899

"Man will not fly for 50 years."
Wilbur Wright, 1901

"Flight by machines heavier than air is impractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible."
Simon Newcomb, Director, U.S. Naval Observatory, 1902

"The actual building of roads devoted to motor cars is not
for the near future, in spite of many rumours to that effect.

'Harper's Weekly', 1902

"The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty - a fad."
President of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Horace Rackham (Henry Ford's lawyer) not to invest in the Ford Motor Company in 1903. Rackham ignored the advice and bought $5,000 worth of stock. He sold it several years later for $12,500,000!

"The automobile has practically reached the limit of its development."
Scientific American', 1909

"Gasoline engines will soon be rendered obsolete."
Thomas A. Edison, 1910

"Prices on electric cars will continue to drop until they're within reach of the average family."
The Washington Post', 1915

"The radio isn't even worthy of discussion."
Pittsburgh newspaper, 1920

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

"Talking films are a very interesting invention, but I do not believe they will remain long in fashion."
Louis-Jean Lumiere (co-inventor of the first film projector), 1929

"A severe depression like that of 1920-21 is outside the range of probability."
Harvard Economic Society's Weekly Letter', published November 16, 1929. The Letter ceased publication in 1931, broke because of The Great Depression.

"The Depression is over .... improvement will set in during the Spring months."
Herbert Hoover; January, 1930

"A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth's atmosphere."
'New York Times', 1936

"No Civil War picture has ever made a nickel."
Irving Thalberg, MGM Studios (who turned down 'Gone With The Wind'), 1938

"Television will fail. People don't have time to stop what they're doing and stare at a screen."
New York Times', 1939

"The Glider Train, consisting of one tow plane and three or more gliders is now a tested reality. Tomorrow, it will carry mail and fast freight to every point on the globe, revolutionizing transportation."
Forbes Magazine', 1942

"The (atom) bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives."
Admiral William Leahy to President Truman, 1945

"Television won't last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night."
Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946

"In the future, computers will have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and, perhaps, only weigh one and one-half tons."
Popular Mechanics', 1949

"I never met any guitar player who was worth a damn."
Vernon Presley, providing career advice to his son, Elvis, 1953

"Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years."
Alex Lewyt, president of vacuum cleaner company, Lewyt Corp., 1955

"The biggest no-talent I ever worked with."
Paul Cohen, Decca Records (after firing Buddy Holly), 1956

"Castro will last a year. No longer."
Fulgencio Batista (deposed by Fidel Castro), 1959

"Guitar groups are on their way out."
Dick Rowe, A&R man for the British arm of Decca records to Beetles' manager, Brian Epstein, after Rowe was unimpressed with their audition at Decca studios. Rowe declined to sign the Fab Four to his label in 1963.

"With over fifteen types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself."
Business Week', 1968

"No woman in my time will ever be Prime Minister of Great Britain."
Margaret Thatcher, 1970 (she became Prime Minister in 1979)

"The computer will never be as important as the copier."
Head of Xerox NY research facility, mid-1970s

"There is no reason for any individual to have a personal computer in their home."
Ken Olsen, President, Digital Equipment Corp., 1980

"For the most part, the portable computer is a dream machine for the few … On the whole, people don't want to lug a computer with them to the beach or on a train to while away hours they would rather spend reading the sports or business section of the newspaper. Somehow, the microcomputer industry has assumed that everyone would love to have a keyboard grafted on as an extension of their fingers. It just is not so."
Erik Sandberg-Diment, 'New York Times', 1985

In the 1961 edition of his best-selling textbook, Paul Samuelson predicted that the Soviet Economy would "overtake the U.S. economy sometime between 1984 and 1997." In the book's 1989, edition, Samuelson wrote, "The Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and even thrive." The Soviet Union ceased to exist on December 31, 1991.
Paul Samuelson, first American to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (in 1970)

"Most of the beaches on the East Coast of the United States will be gone in 25 years," due to rising sea levels caused by global warming.
New York Times article, September 18, 1995

"By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet's impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine's."
Paul Krugman, 'New York Times' economist, 1998

Soooo ... listen to your heart, not the futurists. Use your own experience to spot trends and respond to them appropriately. Make business and personal decisions based on sound logic rather the hype cranked out by so-called experts.

More of my business advice can be found here.

Other Pages Of Interest

copyright 1998-2020 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved


The facts presented on this website are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.

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If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.

If I have slandered any people or corporations, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.

Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.