Comedian Jay Leno mused, “The big news headline I’m waiting to see is: ‘Psychic Wins Lottery.’”

We modern humans seem to love predicting things.  “Gee-whiz” predictions have become a cottage industry in news media and online territories. It seems like every news site has to tout some new advance that will “fundamentally change the way we think about bicycle seats,” or some equally crucial trend.

Each new year, at least one of the supermarket tabloids will headline, “Psychic Predictions for the Coming Year.” Yet we never see the follow-up issue – the scorecard. Which of those amazing predictions actually came true and which did not?

As a business futurist, I find it interesting that business executives and association leaders ask what I think will happen in their individual sectors, yet no one ever checks to see whether the things I said would happen actually did. That’s a prescription for a great job.

In an effort to keep myself at least a little bit humble, I like to reminisce now and then on some of my own fizzled forecasts.

And, of course, I always enjoy reading about some of the questionable predictions made by people who should know better.

Just for the sake of amusement, here’s a baker’s dozen of some of my favorite failed predictions, cobbled from many sources.

1. "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist —"

~ Last words of General John Sedgwick, a Union army commander, disparaging the legendary marksmanship of Confederate snipers

2. "There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will."

~ Albert Einstein, 1932

3. "Forget it, Louis. No Civil War picture ever made a nickel."

~ Irving Thalberg, financial adviser to Hollywood producer Louis B. Mayer, who turned down the chance to film "Gone With the Wind"

4. "Gone With the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable falling on his face, and not Gary Cooper."

~ Actor Gary Cooper, who turned down the leading male role in "Gone With the Wind"

5. “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”

~ Harry Warner, head of Warner Brothers Studios, 1927

6. "Television won't last, because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night."

~ Darryl Zanuck, movie producer at 20th Century Fox, 1946

7. "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."

~ Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943

8. "We will bury you – and you capitalists will sell us the shovels to do it with."

~ Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, addressing Western ambassadors at the Polish embassy in Moscow

9. "We stand on the threshold of rocket mail."

~ U.S. Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield, serving during Eisenhower's administration. He believed missile technology would make it feasible to deliver mail between continents via ballistic missiles.

10. "I see no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home."

~ Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation

11. "We don't like their sound, and guitar bands are on the way out."

~ Decca Recording Company marketing executive, on declining to sign the Beatles, 1962

12. "I give them about a year."

~ Ray Bloch, musical director for "The Ed Sullivan Show," when the Beatles made their first live appearance on American television over 50 years ago

13. "Reagan doesn't have that presidential look."

~ United Artists executive, rejecting Ronald Reagan as lead in the 1964 film “The Best Man”

The Author:

Dr. Karl Albrecht is an executive management consultant, coach, futurist, lecturer, and author of more than 20 books on professional achievement, organizational performance, and business strategy. He is listed as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in business on the topic of leadership.

He is a recognized expert on cognitive styles and the development of advanced thinking skills. His books Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success, Practical Intelligence: The Art and Science of Common Sense, and his Mindex Thinking Style Profile are used in business and education.

The Mensa society presented him with its lifetime achievement award, for significant contributions by a member to the understanding of intelligence.

Originally a physicist, and having served as a military intelligence officer and business executive, he now consults, lectures, and writes about whatever he thinks would be fun.


Cerf, Vincent, Navasky, Victor (1998). The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Misinformation. New York: Villard Books.

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