Models: flaws from experts

January 9, 2012 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Evolutionary Psychology, Nature

[This post is part of a series on The Model — my model for the human emotional system designed for use in leadership, self-awareness, and general purpose professional and personal development — which I find the most effective and valuable foundation for understanding yourself and others and improving your life. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you think you have some great models and beliefs that no one can prove wrong? Let’s look at some examples of experts declaring things most people at the time probably agreed with.

I think you’ll find many funny today. Imagine trying to argue with the authority who said it at the time.

Not all the statements clearly state a model, but with some thought you can discern the model that led to the statement.

  • I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Thomas  Watson, Chair, IBM, 1943.
  • “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” Popular Mechanics, 1949.
  • I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” Business books editor, Prentice-Hall, 1957.
  • So we went to Atari and said, … We’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said no. So then we went to HP, and they said ‘We don’t need you, you haven’t got through college yet.'” Steve Jobs, co-founder, Apple Computers.
  • 640K of RAM ought to be enough for anybody.” Bill Gates, Microsoft, 1981.
  • Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” H.M. Warner, Warner Bros., 1927.
  • Stocks have reached what look to be a permanently high plateau.” I. Fisher, Prof. of Economics, Yale, 1929.
  • “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” M. Smith, Decca Records, rejecting the Beatles’ demo tape, 1962.
  • “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication [and] is inherently of no value to us.” Western Union, 1876.
  • Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” Lord Kelvin, President, Royal Society, 1895. [EDIT: more precisely: he said “I have not the smallest molecule of faith in aerial navigation other than ballooning or of expectation of good results from any of the trials we hear of.”]
  • Everything that can be invented has been invented.” C. H. Duell Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899. [EDIT: Oops, debunked, though others said similar things]

Anyone can point out counterexamples to these models everywhere today. Yet the authorities stating them at the time probably had the best knowledge of the relevant information.

Though the following sentiment applies to all the points, I’ll pick one. I find it hard to imagine how Lord Kelvin, one of the great physicists of all time, could have predicted heavier-than-air flying machines impossible when heavier-than-air birds, insects, and bats fly all the time. He seems so wrong as to sound silly from our perspective, knowing so many counterexamples.

But more to the point, when I feel too sure of myself, I imagine how silly I must look from someone else’s perspective who has so many counterexamples.

Do you think no one has a perspective with counterexamples to your beliefs?

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1 response to “Models: flaws from experts

  1. Pingback: A model that answers all of life’s most important questions » Joshua Spodek

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