List o’ 18 Fails: Expert Predictions That Missed

Sure, we are all perfect in hindsight, but it’s fun to look back. So when experts talk people tend to listen, but it doesn’t mean they’re right, we just might not know it at the time. This post presents 18 quotes – predictions in fact – from experts who missed the mark.




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Fails #1-8: Technology

The first computer

1. “Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons.” — Popular Mechanics, 1949
2. “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
3. “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” — The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

The world's first micro chip

4. “But what…is it good for?” — Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip
5. “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977
6. “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” — Attributed to Bill Gates, 1981, but could be an urban legend

List of expert predictions that did not happen - Bad predictions

7. “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 internal memo, 1876
8. “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” — Sir William Preece, chief engineer of the British Post Office, 1876


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Fails #9-14: Business Ideas

The first radio lecture Tufts University, 1922 First radio station - Rutherford County - WGNS

9. “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” — David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s
10.Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” — William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, British scientist, 1899
11. “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.” — Lee DeForest, inventor

Fedex planeFedex-logoFedex plane loading

12. “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C’, the idea must be feasible.” — A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)

Post it note to do list mural

13. “If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this.” — Spencer Silver on the work that led to the adhesive for 3-M Post-It Notepads

14. “With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market.” — Business Week, August 2, 1968

First apple computer - Apple IApple I - the first apple

15. “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.’” — Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer



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Fails #16-18: Entertainment

Gone With the Wind - Clarke GableGone With the Wind

16. “I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.” — Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With the Wind.”
17.Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” — H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

The Beatles

18. “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” — Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962


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