Professor Murmann's Blog: Even the Best Cannot Predict the Future

Even the Best Cannot Predict the Future

It is very useful to recognize that the social world is too complex to predict well what will succeed and what will fail. Those who think they know with great certainty what will succeed run the danger of overinvesting in their pet scenarios. What is the lesson? Just like with stocks, we should always have a portfolio of beliefs about the future, reducing the risk of getting stuck with the wrong scenarios.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
—Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

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

“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., 1977

“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.

“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, not Gary Cooper.”
  —Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With The Wind.”

“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 HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer.

“Drill for oil?  You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.”
—Drillers whom 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 Guerre.

“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

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”
    —Bill Gates, 1981

“$100 million dollars is way too much to pay for Microsoft.”
    —IBM, 1982