“The Beatles have no future in show business… Groups are out; four-piece groups with guitars, particularly, are finished.” (Dick Rowe, Decca Records executive, 1962, speaking of the Beatles)
“I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” (Edward J. Smith, Captain of the Titanic)
“Futurists…are sure that remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop—because women like to get out of the house, like to handle the merchandise, like to be able to change their minds.” (1966 Time magazine article, “The Futurists: Looking Toward A.D. 2000.”)
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” (Ken Olsen, Digital Equipment Corp. founder, 1977)
“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” (Steve Balmer, CEO of Microsoft, 2007)
(Source of all the above quotes: Time.com article: “Top Ten Failed Predictions” 2013) http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2097462_2097456_2097466,00.html
After reading those statements, I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or just shut up. Seriously. Every person quoted above was a bright, skilled person: executives, captains, futurists. Each shared his/her assessment with certainty. There was no hint in their words that they could be wrong. But they were.
As we read their words now, they appear foolish…or worse. I’ve been there. In 2001, on one of our ramblin’ moves from Alabama to Massachusetts, I hitched a flatbed trailer to the back of our moving truck and piled it high with yard and garden equipment. An hour into our trip, I began to wonder if I had tightened the lug nuts on the left trailer tire after replacing it the day before. I couldn’t remember.
No worries, I thought. It certainly can’t hurt to wait until we stop for supper in an hour or so. When we stopped for supper, I forgot about the tire entirely until we were getting ready to drive away again. I checked the left tire’s lug bolts…or what was left of them. I was stunned.
The lug nuts had worked themselves very loose, allowing the tire to jiggle on the lug bolts, an action which ground out the trailer rim holes through which the lug bolts secured the tire to the axle. This is the simpler version. Nothing was securing the tire to the axle.
We were seconds from a disaster that could have taken out any vehicle following us, including the two driven by my wife and our good friend, Brad. And why? Because, I was quite certain I was right about untightened lug nuts…until I wasn’t. I thought for sure I was right, but I wasn’t.
All of us have opinions. At least that’s my opinion! We are forming these ideas all the time. Even when we are not fully aware of it, our minds are taking in data around us and tying it together to form conclusions. We can’t help it. That isn’t the problem.
The problem is too quickly assuming that we are right. This is my everyday battle. I have a frightening degree of confidence in my conclusions, which leads to subtle arrogance. That arrogance shows up in at least two ways.
First, I do more talking than listening. Why listen to another idea when I already have it all figured out? Why read a controversial author when I already know what’s right. Why hear Joy’s side of the story when I already know her motive? Why stop and check the tire when I’m pretty confident everything is fine?
My arrogance has this second look: I state my conclusion more as a fact than an opinion. “Surely, a tire can’t work itself loose in an hour.” “This is what you did and here’s why you did it.” “God always wants us to…” “It is obvious that…”
Into my arrogance, God—with grace and a smile—gives me a loving warning: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” (The Bible, James 1:19, NIV, 1984)
Live like you’ve got more to learn. Listen more to get greater perspective. Share your opinions and ideas more cautiously. Speak more humbly and graciously. Air your anger slowly.
Put another way: speak as if you could be mistaken because—well because you could be. If 51 years of life experience has shown me anything, it is this: a decent number of the things I believe today simply aren’t accurate or true. The problem is, I don’t know which ones they are. That alone should humble me and slow my words.
My brother, Bruce, once wondered out loud if he just shouldn’t start out every conversation with the words, “I’m probably wrong, but…” Brilliant! Here’s what I think that would do. It would create a more humble posture. Sharing our words with that disclaimer, we would be more likely to listen to the thoughts of others in drawing or revising our conclusions. We would speak less often, and we would tend to be more gracious. And…we would more quickly discover some of the places where we are, in fact, mistaken.
Of course, I’m probably wrong.
Anyone else have a good “I discovered I was wrong” story to share? Feel free to comment. It will make me feel a bit better.