Learning The Benefit Of Hindsight]

Dr. Ernest N. Prabhakar (ernest@pundit)
Thu, 17 Apr 97 22:45:20 -0700

Humour bits, which are by definition old, yet redeemed by some
inspired commentary. :-)

The list seems rather unfair, in that it ignores all the useless
inventions which were -correctly- pooh-poohed by their peers. I also
wonder whether some of those quotes are spurious (Watson -had- to want
to sell more than five computers; I know the patent office quote was
taken out of context).

It is interesting to figure out *why* people failed to appreciate the
significance of what was going on. There are several common
mistakes I can think of:

- linear extrapolation
of course, many make the opposite assumption of exponential
growth, ignoring the s-curve effect of saturation

- confusing early adopters with niches (this also cuts both ways)
the secret is understanding what drives the 'niche' status, and
whether that is 'solvable'

- not allowing for unforeseen consequences and human adaptation

For example, even Tim-Berner's Lee didn't believe people would
actually -type- URLs; they'd reference them off a mail message or
something. Yet know, what, 20% of ads in Good Housekeeping have URLs
or email? Good Housekeeping!

Of course, many things on the list are just prejudice and ignorance
(e.g. the anti-Goddard quote). Still, as someone who prognosticates
about the future, and tries to bring about cultural change, it is
interesting to try to develop a taxonomy of skepticism.

-- Ernie P.

Learning The Benefit Of Hindsight

Up-and-coming visionaries get chided all the time by the establishment.
Here are some classics that will inspire them to power on for the
betterment of humanity.

"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."
--Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
--Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

"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

"But what ... is it good for?"
--Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968,
commenting on the microchip.

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
--Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp.,

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered
as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to
--Western Union internal memo, 1876.

"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.

"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 reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to
found Federal Express Corp.)

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

"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."

"A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say
America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make."
--Response to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' cookies.

"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."
--Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

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

"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 unique adhesives for 3-M
"Post-It" Notepads.

"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
H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak's personal computer.

"Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and
reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against
which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in
high schools."
--1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard's revolutionary
rocket work.

"You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all
of your muscles? It can't be done. It's just a fact of life. You just
have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable
condition of weight training."
--Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the "unsolvable" problem by
inventing Nautilus.

"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil?
You're crazy."
--Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill
for oil in 1859.

"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau."
--Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.

"Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value."
--Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de

"Everything that can be invented has been invented."
--Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

"Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction".
--Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

"The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the
intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon".
--Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed
Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873.

"640K ought to be enough for anybody."
-- Bill Gates, 1981