8 Terrible Business Predictions (and 1 Valuable Lesson)

It's scary how often ideas or concepts are rejected. History is littered with examples of people who wrote off a piece of technology, or said someone wouldn't amount to anything, and later had to pull their foot from their mouth.

In fact, some predictions are so far from the mark, they're incredible. Here are eight famously-bad business predictions that made the originator eat crow later on. A lot of crow.

1. Steve Ballmer on the iPhone's Failure

"[Apple's iPhone] is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn't appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard which makes it not a very good email machine…" —Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, uttered this famous quote in 2007, and now in 2011 the iPhone is the top smartphone vendor in the world. Business customers are buying the iPhone (and using it for email among other things).

Apple's famous touch screen also became one of the biggest selling points of the phone, proving Mr. Balmer wrong yet again.

2. Business Week Predicts Japanese Cars Will Fail in the U.S.

"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.

In case you haven't noticed, Japanese automakers have done very well in the U.S. 2008 was a very strong year for Japanese car manufacturers, as Toyota became the world's biggest car manufacturer.

3. The Beatles Rejection

"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."—Decca Records on The Beatles in 1962

Little did Decca Records know that The Beatles would go on to be the best-selling band in history. Oh, and guitar music was definitely not on the way out. Two strikes for Decca Records.

4. J.K. Rowling Rejected by Publishing Executive

"Children just aren’t interested in Witches and Wizards anymore."—Anonymous publishing executive to J.K. Rowling, 1996

J.K. Rowling went on to write one of the most-beloved children's series of all-time, selling more than 400 milion copies of stories about witches and wizards.

5. IBM Says There's No Need for Photocopiers

"The world potential market for copying machines is 5000, at most."—IBM to Xerox founders in 1959.

After releasing the first plain paper photocopier in 1959, Xerox had revenues in $60M in 1961 and by 1965 over $500M. Xerox most recently had $21.6B revenue in 2010.

6. Movie Producer: Television Won't Last

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

Since Mr. Zanuck's shortsighted prediction, television (and Fox) have done quite well for themselves. In 2009 Nielsen found that over half of U.S. homes have three or more TVs.

It turns out people do want to stare at the tube every night.

7. No Need for Personal Computer

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."—Ken Olson of Digital Equipment Corp. in 1977

While the concept of the home computer has changed since 1977, this quote couldn't be further from the mark. In 2005 Seagate performed a study that found that 76 percent of Americans had a personal computer. In six years that number has most likely risen, and the number of personal computers per household has risen, too.

8. Overnight Parcel Delivery Will Never Work

"The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C', the idea must be feasible."— A Yale University professor's response to Fred Smith's paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith would later found FedEx.

Fred Smith and FedEx definitely made overnight delivery possible, and today they have an operating revenue $34.7B.

The Valuable Takeaway

As 2011 winds down and we start to think about welcoming 2012, experts of all stripes will start spouting predictions. Some reasonable, others crazy.

If there's one thing history has taught us, it is that we can't predict the future. We don't know what technologies will take hold, what discoveries will be made, or what pop culture will be like. So don't listen to the experts.

Listen to your gut.

When someone tells you something is impossible, think about why. History is littered with determined people who overcame long odds. Consider Nelson Mandela's quote about the impossible: “It always seems impossible until it's done."

It's much easier to say something is impossible or won't work than to actually try it. And conversely, carefully consider making your next sweeping prediction as well. You just might be surprised at what actually happens.

For more business insights, follow Glen at LifeDev.

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