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 embarrassingly 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 e-mail machine…"
Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, uttered this famous quote in 2007. Needless to say, he missed the mark entirely; today, Apple is the top smartphone vendor in the world. Business customers are buying it and using it for e-mail among many, many 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 on the failure of Japanese cars 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."
Those famous words were published in the prominent business magazine on August 2, 1968.
In case you haven't noticed, Japanese automakers have done very well in the U.S. In fact, 2008 was a particularly strong year for Japanese auto manufacturers, as Toyota became the world's biggest car manufacturer.
3. Decca Records on the future of The Beatles
"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out," said Decca Records about The Beatles in 1962.
Little did the record company know, 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.
4. One publisher's take on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter
"Children just aren’t interested in witches and wizards anymore," an anonymous publishing executive told J.K. Rowling in 1996.
Rowling, of course, 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, wizards and goblins.
5. IBM on the need for photocopiers
"The world potential market for copying machines is 5,000, at most," said IBM to Xerox in 1959.
After releasing the first plain paper photocopier in 1959, Xerox had revenues in $60 million in 1961, and by 1965 it reached revenues of over $500 million. In 2010, the photocopy giant made $21.6 billion in revenue.
6. Movie producer Darryl Zanuck on the future of television
"Television won't last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night,” said Zanuck to 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. American engineer Ken Olson on the need for the personal computer
"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home," said Olson, co-founder of Digital Equipment Corp., in 1977.
While the concept of the home computer has changed since 1977, those words couldn't be farther from the mark. In 2005, hard drive manufacturer Seagate performed a study that found that 76 percent of Americans had a personal computer. Six years later, of course, that number has most likely risen, along with the number of personal computers per household.
8. A Yale University professor on the demand for overnight parcel delivery
"The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C', the idea must be feasible."
This was the response of a Yale University professor to Fred Smith, on his paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith would later found FedEx.
Smith not only created demand for overnight package delivery, but he built a $34.7-billion empire.
So, 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 evolve into. So don't listen to the experts.
Listen to your gut.
When someone tells you something is impossible, consider 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 that it won't work than it is to actually try it. And conversely, carefully consider making your next sweeping prediction, as well. You just might be surprised by what actually happens.
Glen Stansberry writes at LifeDev. He is also the co-founder of Howdy, a way for small business sites to improve site conversions. You can find more of Glen's business insights on Wise Bread, the leading personal finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money. You can also follow Glen at LifeDev.