Do you believe you are on the verge of developing a pathbreaking idea but you are having second thoughts because some ‘experts’ shot it down? Keep going at it! Some of the most ubiquitous technologies/products we use today were once deemed to be failed inventions or were regarded as a fad.
On the occasion of World Creativity and Innovation Day, CXO Life features ten inventions that were dismissed by the experts of the time but rule our lives now.
Let’s begin with the one which symbolically represents an idea – the light bulb!
The electric bulb
Among the most noteworthy inventions of Thomas Edison, who was awarded with 1093 patents in the US alone, the first commercially viable lightbulb was predicted to be ‘conspicuous failure’ by Henry Morton, one of the most eminent scientific ‘minds and president of the Stevens Institute of Technology. A British parliamentary Committee disregarded the entire idea stating the light bulb was “good enough for our transatlantic friends … but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men.” (!)
Can we imagine our lives without the automobile or a bike? But, when launched, sceptics were quick to dismiss it as a passing fancy. In 1906, the New York Sun stated, “As a fad cycling is dead, and few individuals now ride for all the good they claim to see in the pastime when it was fashion.” Of course, the tide turned as cycles became sturdier and quality of infrastructure improved.
The automobile was also considered as impractical with critics and analysts convinced it could never replace the bicycle! In 1899, Literary Digest mentioned, “The ordinary “horseless carriage” is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.”
Henry Ford changed the entire dynamics by launching the first line of mass produced vehicles, making it possible for cars to be accessible to all. Who would have envisaged then that there would be so many cars on our streets that we would be forced to contemplate think of using the environment-friendly bicycle!
Can you imagine a James Bond movie without Bond saying – “Bond. James Bond.”? Or watching the classic Casablanca and not listening to “Here’s looking at you, kid”! And yet, during the silent era of cinema, movie moghuls balked at the idea of a talkie.
The Jazz Singer, released in October 1927, was the first feature film originally presented as a talkie and was a major hit. However, it was considered as a ‘box office freak’ and stalwarts were quick to dismiss it as a ‘gimmick’ which wouldn’t stay on for long. They believed that the audience would soon tire of the noise which of course didn’t happen and lead actors began mouthing dialogues as sound recording technology improved!
Telephone and Cellphone
Had the naysayers gotten their way we still would be communicating with each other sending telegrams! Alexander Graham Bell was credited with the invention of the telephone in 1876. The Western Union, however, saw no value in it disregarding it as a ‘toy’, out rightly rejecting Bell’s offer to sell the rights to his patent for $100,000. Bell went ahead and established the Bell Telephone Company in 1877. Less than a decade later 1.5 million Americans were proud owners of a telephone.
It is unsurprising that decades down the line the introduction of cell phones too met with the same derision. In fact, even Motorola under estimated the potential of its own creation! In 1973, John F. Mitchell and Martin Cooper of Motorola demonstrated the first hand-held mobile phone weighing 2 kg. But, Cooper stated ‘cellular phones will absolutely not replace local wire systems. Even if you project it beyond our lifetimes, it won’t be cheap enough.’ And to think most of us can’t live without our cell phones!
AC (Alternating Currents)
For all his genius, Edison was forced to eat his own words when he said that “fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.” He often ridiculed Nikola Tesla’s model of alternating current (the patent of which was bought by American entrepreneur George Westinghouse). AC in many ways is the most efficient way of supplying power.
Home and office outlets are almost on AC since generating and transporting AC across long distances is relatively easy. At high voltages, lesser energy is lost due to lower currents and AC can be converted easily to and from high voltages, using transformers. AC is also capable of powering electric motors.
Even the biggest minds in science couldn’t envisage the possibilities instantaneous transmission of data would unravel! The key hurdles were the cost and the complexity of data transmission what with the first commercial modem being able to transmit data at only 300 bits per second! Nobel laureate and physicist, Dennis Gabor who invented holography in 1962 stated, “Transmission of documents via telephone wires is possible in principle, but the apparatus required is so expensive that it will never become a practical proposition.”
In fact, sending mails faster through rockets seemed a more viable proposition! Arthur Summerfield, U.S. Postmaster General in 1959 said, “Before man reaches the moon, your mail will be delivered within hours from New York to Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.” Thankfully, we can now send an email containing information equivalent to the one housed in a library within seconds to any place in the world and all without the help of guided missiles!
On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made four brief flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina with their first powered aircraft, creating history with the invention of the first successful plane. Interestingly, this was just two years after Wilbur Wright had dejectedly proclaimed “Man will not fly for 50 years”, following unsuccessful trials with their early models. Once again, when in 1933, the world’s first modern passenger aircraft, the 10-seater Boeing 247, made its maiden journey, people thought the limit had been reached in terms of building the biggest plane ever!
The invention of the airplane not only revolutionised the way we travelled and transported goods but it was a breakthrough in military warfare. However, military experts at that time belittled the invention and declared it a ‘toy’. It took two decades after the First World War for it to become an integral part of military strategy!
“A development of which we need waste little time dreaming.” American radio pioneer and inventor of the vaccum tube, Lee De Forest had the aforementioned views about Scottish inventor John Logie Baird’s invention in 1926! And now, over 1.5 billion households worldwide own at least one television set!
Time magazine in 1966 had claimed, “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop – because women like to get out of the house, like to handle merchandise, like to be able to change their minds.” The biggest hurdle seen at that time was the shipping speed and the idea of getting an item delivered within a day from one city to another seemed ludicrous. Of course, the advent of speedy delivery changed the entire shopping experience! Now, millions of consumers prefer shopping their toothbrush to their television set to their groceries online! In 2017, an estimated 1.66 billion people worldwide purchase goods online!
Computer and Laptops
In the current age, it is inconceivable to think of any home without a computer be it a desktop, laptop or an iPad. But, in 1977, Ken Olson, founder of Digital Equipment Corp and among the numerous sceptics, stated “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home. Of course, back then a computer would take up an entire room!” No one could have imagined the way computers would go on to transform every aspect of our lives. Prominent mathematicians believed we had reached the pinnacle of achievement in terms of computer technology when the world’s first stored program computer, the Small Scale Experimental Machine made its debut in 1948!
Even laptops were written off too soon due to its bulky structure, poor battery life and the price, all of which got resolved with the advent of better technology. The New York Times in 1985 had written an obituary of sorts, convinced laptops were on their way out!
These examples showcase that even as the natural progression of the human mind is to constantly seek possibilities, it often resists the possibility of change. Above all, we need to keep alive the idea of possibilities, considering experts have attempted to shoot it down long ago! In 1899, Charles H Duell, commissioner of US Office of Patents had declared, rather infamously that “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” (!)
Here’s to the undying, relentless pursuit of possibilities!
Are you working on an idea that you think will change the world or a part of it? We would love to hear about it! Write to us – firstname.lastname@example.org.