Technology Predictions are Often Spectacularly Wrong

Nobel prize winner (in chemistry) and physicist Ernest Rutherford (known for his work on nuclear physics) once experimented with radio waves, but gave it up when told radio had no future.

The point is that even the best and brightest minds in technology often are very wrong about how a particular innovation will develop. So humility is not a bad attitude for any market researcher to adopt.

In 1943, Thomas Watson, IBM CEO said “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Ken Olson, Digital Equipment Corp. president, in 1977 said “there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.”

Western Union execs once argued the telephone “is inherently of no value to us.”

Thomas Edison said “fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time.”

Others argued the automobile was a novelty or fad. Studio executive Daryl Zanuck once said “television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months.”

Even Marty Cooper, a mobile phone pioneer, once argued that “cellular phones will absolutely not replace local wire systems.”

Robert Metcalfe, a father of Ethernet, said “the internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, once said “there’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.”

The point is that the best and brightest among us, and certainly even competent market researchers, can be spectacularly wrong. That might be especially the case when subjects we do not routinely cover start to reshape industries, markets and possibilities, but such dangers always exist, even in markets we do claim to cover.

“You don’t know what you don’t know” is one explanation for forecasting error. No forecaster is able to incorporate somewhat unplanned events such as major recessions, huge changes in underlying core technologies, wars, revolutions and other exogenous events that directly affect markets of any sort.

Also, we tend to work with two-dimensional spreadsheets. Reality necessarily is more complex than that. So humility always is a good attitude to maintain when making predictions.
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