The 25 Best Anti-Innovation Quotes Ever

By Dan Wheeler, Contributing Columnist
Former Global Head of Innovation, Dunkin’ Brands

Dan Wheeler

I’ve always found it both fascinating and ironic that while most of society benefits regularly from innovation, most humans have a lot of difficulty imagining a future that doesn’t yet exist.

And that’s true not only for the unschooled or unsophisticated. In fact, many of history’s most respected intellectuals — not just the senior leadership at your company — have said some of the silliest things about new ideas that had not yet realized their potential.

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, and in no particular order, I offer you 25 of my personal favorite “anti-innovation” quotes.

• • •
1. “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. That would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” — Albert Einstein, 1932

2. “Television won’t last, because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” — Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946

3. “Everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize [the light bulb] as a conspicuous failure.” — Henry Morton, Stevens Institute of Technology, on Edison’s light bulb, 1880

Henry Ford’s original “Quadricycle” automobile, from 1896.

4. “The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty, a fad.” — President of Michigan Savings Bank to Henry Ford’s lawyers, 1903

5. “It’ll be gone by June.” — Variety Magazine, on rock-and-roll, 1955

6. “There’s just not that many videos I want to watch.” — Steve Chen, co-founder of YouTube, upon selling his own company to Google, 2005

7. “I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea.” — HG Wells, British novelist, 1901

8. “I predict the internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 collapse.” — Robert Metcalfe, Founder of 3Com, 1995

9. “The Americans may need the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” — William Preece, British Post Office, 1876

10. “The world potential market for copying machines is 5,000 at most” — Executive at IBM to the founders of Xerox, 1959

11. “Such a man-made voyage [rocket travel] will never occur, regardless of all future endeavors.” — Lee DeForest, American inventor, 1926

12. “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” — Decca Recording Company on declining to sign the Beatles, 1962

13. “Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” — Dr. Dionysius Lardner, 1830

14. “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop” — Time magazine, 1968

15. “How, sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you, excuse me, I have not the time to listen to such nonsense.” — Napoleon Bonaparte, 1800s

Apollo 11 on the launch pad. Photo courtesy NASA.

16. “A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” — New York Times, 1936 (The Times famously published a correction to this statement in 1969, as Apollo 11 traveled to the moon.)

17. “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.” — Lord Kelvin, President of the British Royal Society, 1895

18. “There will never be a bigger plane built.” — Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the twin-engine 247 that held 10 people

19. “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?” — Associates of David Sarnoff, early radio pioneer, 1921

20. “The Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big slice of the US market.” — BusinessWeek magazine, 1968

21. “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” — Ken Olson, president of Digital Equipment Corp, 1977

22. “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” — Western Union, 1876

23. “These Google guys want to be billionaires and rock stars and go to conferences and all that. Let’s see if they still want to run the business in two to three years.” — Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft, 2003

24. “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.” — King William I of Prussia, 1864

25. “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943

• • •
Pull these quotes out the next time you’re trying to coach a team to shut out conventional wisdom and ignore the naysayers. You’ll be amazed at how the failed predictions of others can open minds to new possibilities. Hey, even Albert Einstein was wrong at least once!

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