You may have heard the apocryphal tale that in 1899, Charles H. Duell, the commissioner of the U.S. patent office wanted to close the office because “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”[i] This was a fiction, but many other statements were true.
If you Google, “Did Al Gore Claim to invent the internet,” Snopes.com will tell you that it is false that Al Gore claimed to invent the internet. Here is what he really said during the 2000 presidential campaign: “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.”[ii] It sure sounds like he said it to me, but whether he did or did not say it is irrelevant. Everyone in their right mind credits the computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee.
A number of famous businessmen who have made even more laughable statements and predictions. Here are a few:
1889: “Fooling around with alternating current (AC) is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.” — Thomas Edison
1903: “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” — President of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Company.
1946: “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” — Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox.
1961: “There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio service inside the United States.” — T.A.M. Craven, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner.
2007: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” — Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO. [iii]
This is one that I will bet you have never heard:
1964: “How long do you think you’re going to keep jackassing around with these shoes?” – Bill Knight, Publisher of the Oregon Journal.
This question was interesting for a couple of reasons. First, Jackass is a noun for a donkey or, by extrapolation, a person who is as crazy or stupid as a donkey.
I checked Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the Cambridge dictionary, the Oxford English dictionary, and the McMillan dictionary and it is always a noun.[iv] Yet Bill Knight turned it into a verb—into the action of acting like a person who is as stupid as a donkey.
I didn’t know you could turn that noun into a verb. That was impressive.
But the real reason this was interesting is because Bill was talking to his son, Phil. Phil had a college degree from the University of Oregon and a graduate degree in business from Stanford. Why was he wasting time selling shoes out of the back of his car? Bill wanted his son to get a real job.
It was the 1960s. His son was importing running shoes from Japan at a time when neither running nor Japan were very fashionable. Phil named his company Blue Ribbon. Blue Ribbon doesn’t mean much to you or to me, but it was everything to Phil. He could have made a lot more money getting a corporate job, but he was following his passion.
After a number of years importing shoes from Japan, he began manufacturing his own athletic shoes and he expanded into apparel. It is likely that you have bought some of Phil’s products. In 1971, Phil renamed the company–Nike.
Nike is now the largest company in its industry with a $102 billion dollar capitalization.[v] What would have happened if Phil had decided not to follow his passion?
What About You?
Are you following your passion like Phil Knight? Or, did you take Bill’s advice and find a respectable substitute for your passion?