“Success is one of the leading causes of failure,” writes consultant Jim Clemmer in his new book, Pathways to Performance (Macmillan Canada). Current market and customer research creates tunnel vision, causing companies to overlook the potential of new ideas. Mr. Clemmer’s examples from history:

  • When trains were first developed, the King of Prussia confidently predicted: “No one will pay good money to get from Berlin to Potsdam in one hour when he can ride his horse there in one day for free.”
  • In 1903, the president of Michigan Savings Bank gave this market advice to Horace Rackham, Henry Ford’s lawyer: “The horse is here to stay. The automobile is only a fad, a novelty.”
  • A British parliamentary committee assessed whether Edison’s light bulb would ever be useful. They concluded it was “unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men.”
  • Edison himself made these market assessments: “The phonograph is not of any commercial value” and “the radio craze will die out in time.”
  • In 1946, Darryl Zanuck, then head of 20th Century Fox, predicted: “Video (television) won’t hold any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”
  • News item in an 1868 New York paper: “A man has been arrested in New York for attempting to extort funds from ignorant and superstitious people by exhibiting a device which he says will convey the human voice any distance over metallic wires so that it will be heard by the listener at the other end. He calls this instrument a telephone. Well-informed people know that it is impossible to transmit the human voice over wires.”
  • In 1980, a Wall Street auto analyst told a Senate committee: “General Motors, already the automotive king of the road, will become even more dominant by the mid-1980s and will be the only auto company capable of building a full range of cars and trucks.”