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When the 'Experts' Get It Wrong

by on December 27, 2016 10:11 AM

As we enter into the new year, it is time for all the "experts" to make their bold predictions about the future (including all the college football bowl and NFL playoffs prognosticators).

The soothsayers and futurists will peer into their crystal balls, analyze all their data, look for signs from above, rub their lucky rabbits’ feet, and use whatever other sources necessary that give them the ability (and audacity) to predict the future.

I had the pleasure of hearing renowned futurist Faith Popcorn speak at a C-Suite conference held in March in Boston. Her vision of the future is both exciting and frightening. Her forecast on the rapid increase next year in robotics and automation will have many positive results but also will cost a lot of people their jobs if she is correct. You can see more of what she predicts for the coming year here.

I thought it would be fun before I read this year's predictions in Parade Magazine, The National Inquirer, and The Onion, to go back and look at some of the biggest blunders of all time. So I researched topics involving the greatest upsets and worst predictions in world history, business, politics, sports, and life in general. This proved to be eye-opening to say the least.

On a serious note, there are many reputable publications that have already put out their 2017 predictions including Forbes, Fortune, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, The Telegraph, and Time to name a few. They include forecasts for technology, the stock market, consumer spending, healthcare, and innovations to make life easier.  

If you really want to have some fun, go back and read the predictions made in some of these publications for 2016 to see just how the various prognosticators fared.

So this is my very unscientific (and somewhat tongue-in-cheek) attempt to point out where some of the "experts" went wrong on a few big ones and a few closer to home.

Let’s start with an easy one for today’s tech savvy readers.

Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft once predicted in 2007, "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance."

According to Fortune magazine, by fall of 2016 over 1 billion iPhones have been sold and percent of market share is consistently in the high 40s.

Let’s go back to the 19th century for our next few.  

"The horse is here to stay… the automobile is only a novelty -- a fad." - The President of the Michigan Savings Bank in 1903. That was the advice he gave to a potential investor in Henry Ford’s fledgling auto company.

Yeah, how did that work out?

In discussing the rumors that the Titanic had struck an iceberg, Philip Franklin, vice president of White Star Line said at 8 a.m. on April 15, 1912, “We place absolute confidence in the Titanic. We believe that the boat is unsinkable.”

Of course, the boat had already sunk on its maiden voyage earlier that morning, around 2:20 a.m.

Here is another gem, dealing with the invention of the TV: “Television won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night."

That doozy came in 1946 from Darryl Zanuck, a famous movie producer with 20th Century Fox.

Then there was the “Y2K” scare. This is what happens when people take an Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” approach to problem-solving. It may go down as one of the biggest wastes of time and money ever.

A typical alarmist back at the end of the last millennium sounded much like Dr. Ed Yardeni, the Managing Director & Chief Economist at Deutsche Bank during his keynote address to the Bank for International Settlements: Let's stop pretending that Y2K isn't a major threat to our way of life. There is too much at stake for such uninformed wishful thinking."

Billions of dollars were spent in preparation for the fact that computer systems would all fail when the year reached "00." In the end it was a non-event with very few recorded issues across the globe. (Yardeni later said he was happy he was wrong.)

Sports are so full of upsets there is not enough space to go through all the examples so let’s stick with my all-time favorite upset, the “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviet Union hockey team by a bunch of U.S. college kids in 1980.

According to a Success Magazine article by Don Yeager written in 2010, Dave Anderson wrote in The New York Times before the game, “Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle… the Russians are expected to easily win the Olympic gold for the sixth time in seven tournaments.”

Well, on Feb. 22, 1980, legendary sportscaster Al Michaels famously asked and answered, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” USA 4, USSR 3. Michaels’ phrase has its own iconic place in the history of sport.

This is just a tiny sampling of some of the predictions that were way off base. As my wife says, “measure twice, cut once.”  In this age of fake news and first with the news (damn the facts), “Trust, but verify” is more important than ever.

My very unscientific conclusion: Never underestimate the power of the human spirit, the importance of real leadership and their combined synergistic impact on outcomes.

As Denis Waitley stated about his philosophy on life in his best-selling book The Psychology of Winning:

"Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised."


Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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