From the CEO of Palm predicting that Apple would fail at making phones to IBM’s chairman predicting that Walmart would crush Amazon, the history of technological upheaval is littered with the ironic dismissals of establishment executives predicting it would all amount to nothing.
There’s a couple factors at work here. The first is survivor bias: all startups raise money by promising revolutionary change; most startups fail. We don’t remember the executives who correctly predicted the failure of grandiose startup revolutions, because this is totally unremarkable. Every startup will be pooh-poohed by someone, and so you can work backwards from the minority of successes to find and embarrass their detractors.
The other factor is the business equivalent to Arthur C Clarke’s first law: "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong." Successful people are good at figuring out how to go on succeeding the way they always have; they suck at figuring out whether something really different will fail.
Nevertheless, this collection of 33 quotes from senior execs at yesterday’s giant companies who predicted the failure of today’s giants are a fun bit of schadenfreude.
“Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition,” said Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes, speaking to the Motley Fool in 2008. “It’s more Wal-Mart and Apple.”
“Our guests don’t want the Airbnb feel and scent,” said Christopher Norton, EVP of global product and operations at the Four Seasons, speaking to Fast Company a couple of years ago. He went on to explain that his customers expect a “level of service that is different, more sophisticated, detailed, and skillful.”
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home,” said Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977.
Foot In Mouth: 33 Quotes From Big Corporate Execs Who Laughed Off Disruption When It Hit [CB Insights]
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