History is littered with the failed predictions of experts. Yet governments hire high-paid consultants to advise on policy; businesses use them to vet research and development projects; and venture capitalists have them make investment decisions. Experts excel in looking backwards, protecting their turf, and saying what their clients want to hear. Their short-term predictions are sometimes right, but they are almost always wrong in forecasting any more-distant future.

Experts are the greatest inhibitors of innovation—the ones who shouldn’t be listened to. Peter Diamandis says it best: “An expert is someone who can tell you exactly how it can’t be done.”

Look at some of the most famous historical examples:

“The 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 internal memo from 1876

“Heavier than air ?ying machines are impossible.” — Lord Kelvin (William Thomson), president of Royal Society of London in 1895

“There is no reason for any individuals to have a computer in their home.” — Ken Olsen, president, chairman and founder of DEC in 1977

The problem with experts is that they think they know it all, ignore data that don’t fit their points of view, and extrapolate from the past on a linear basis. If some disruptive technology hasn’t come along in the past, the assumption is that it won’t happen in the future. What’s worse is that experts often try to block technologies that might upend their roles. After all, if things change too fast, they will no longer be experts.

An expert is someone who can tell you exactly how it can’t be done.—Peter Diamandis Tweet This Quote

You see these specialists in governments, businesses, and academia. Government experts usually have an agenda. Business experts are typically old-timers trying to protect their jobs. Academics specialize in digging deep into fields that most people would consider arcane or obscure. They gain tenure by writing academic papers and being extremely knowledgeable in a narrow area. They often remain in the same field for decades and can’t see the forest for the trees.

Technology is, today, moving faster than ever. Advances that took decades, sometime centuries, such as the development of telephones, airplanes, and the first computers, now happen in years. Witness how smartphones and social media have come out of nowhere in the past seven years and changed the way we interact and communicate. We are always connected to each other and to our employers. Computing power is advancing at exponential rates and causing acceleration in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, sensors, and medicine.

When advancing technologies converge, they lead to artificial intelligence-based apps that analyze data from medical sensors, with the potential to disrupt the medical industry. Smartphones apps such as Uber and AirBnb are already threatening transportation and lodging. Amazon.com has made bookstores disappear and Apple has changed the music industry. Which experts ever predicted these disruptions?

The experts are becoming more wrong—and irrelevant—than ever.

In the early 1980s, McKinsey & Company created a forecast for AT&T of how many cellular phones would be in use in the world in 2000. It estimated this number to be 900,000. The actual number was greater than 100 million.

In June 2007, then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told USA Today there was “no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item.” The iPhone currently has 42% market share in the U.S.

The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.—Peter Diamandis Tweet This Quote

Silicon Valley’s most respected venture capitalists can’t see even the near future. Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers produces a yearly report, Internet Trends, which is the tech industry’s bible. Its May 2013 report analyzed the leading players in social media and made predictions on the future of mobile technologies. It did not even mention WhatsApp—which Facebook acquired for $19 billion in February 2014. This was the largest acquisition in history of a venture-backed company and was not even on Meeker’s radar.

As an academic expert in advancing technologies, I may lack the credibility to write this article. When entrepreneurs come to me for advice, I tell them, as I am telling you, to take it for what it’s worth. No one can accurately predict the future of business any more, because too much is happening too fast. At best, you can gain an understanding of the overall trends and the types of opportunities and obstacles that lie ahead. You can look backwards to understand what problems have already been solved, how others overcame hurdles, and what types of business strategies worked best. You can learn what questions to ask. You can realize yourself when your idea is either just plain silly or impractical.

I tell entrepreneurs that if they really believe in their gut that they have a world-changing idea, then they should pursue it. They shouldn’t let anyone stop them—no one really knows more than they do. As Peter Diamandis also says “The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.”

About the author

Vivek Wadhwa

Vivek Wadhwa

Vivek is a Fellow at Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance, Stanford University; VP of Innovation and Research at Singularity University; and Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University. He is author of "The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent."

  • mpho muthubi

    Damn the experts, long live the novices!Every innovative idea and product could not have seen the light of day if they were left to the experts to decide on them.If you have an idea or concept, flaunt it,Let the market reject it, not the experts! – Mpho Muthubi South Africa. My book ‘Voetsek’ would give more light on this. Big up Vivek!Be unreasonable!

  • stratomartin

    I can’t wait to hear the expert rebuttals to this most eternal truism.

    Expert consultants can help you spy a few banana peels here and there, but innovation always comes from the enclaves.

  • http://danielepstein.me/ Daniel Epstein

    Truly appreciated this post Vivek. Truth be told, I couldn’t agree more my friend

  • Carlos

    First I think we need to define what an expert is and who qualifies as an expert.

  • http://blog.cursingnerds.com RyanGahl

    I think the author is an expert on experts. Summary: “All generalizations are bad, m’kay”

  • http://blog.cursingnerds.com RyanGahl

    Eh, sorry – re-reading my comment, it comes across snarky… wasn’t meant to be. I agree with the article and furthermore think there may not be such a thing as an expert. There are only people that understand a domain through experience better than those with less experience. Expert sort of implies perfect knowledge, which for most domains is probably impossible.

  • AmberDraina

    If someone considers themselves an expert it generally means that they feel that they know everything. This leaves no room for expansion of the ideas or the mind which in turn inhibits from growth. It is only by realizing that you never actually know EVERYTHING there is to know that you can achieve innovation and growth.

  • Kay

    “An expert is someone who can tell you exactly how it can’t be done.” Exactly. Even though experts know everything, it seems like they narrow down the range of possibility for the future.

  • Alise Brown

    The dreamers are the ones that you hear about, you don’t hear about the “experts” and what they thought wasn’t possible. I think each day everyone is growing and learning and there is never not something new to learn or discover. Just because something claims to be an expert doesn’t deem them that way, look at all the possibilities that wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t listen to the dreamers and innovative thinkers of the world.

  • Jessica White

    I love that you admit that you may not have the credentials to back up your article. Isn’t that the point? You aren’t the expert, you are the dreamer in this situation. It might be beneficial to bring new employees into the picture of your business just to push some limits that may have been set by the experts. Sometimes it is important to ask the question, why are these limits here? Can they be challenged or changed? Like the point that the author made mid way through the article, social media, computers and many other examples were given to show the fact that sometimes challenging the norm or the expert turns out to be a good thing!

  • Catey Navarro

    The fact that the experts are the biggest inhibators probably is not what we want to be hearing. Experts should be pushing the limits and striving for the next best thing, not stopping it. It is hard to rely on people who have the potential, just don’t want to us it. I still have faith in the dreamers and I know that that part of society will never let me down.

  • Catey Navarro

    I never thought of it this way. I wish that the definition of an expert cou.ld change. Yes, you may know a lot about a certian subject but you shouldnt stop there. If you are an expert you should want to continue to psuh yourself because you should know that society has a certian value on experts. We rely on them in many ways and if they are just settling then we shouldnt define them as an expert.

  • Aarynn Bosshart

    “The problem with experts is that they think they know it all, ignore data that don’t fit their points of view, and extrapolate from the past on a linear basis.” This sentence really hit me. Saying that experts make conclusions from the past in a “linear” fashion put in perspective your point that experts cannot possibly predict the future. Especially in this day and age, where technology is changing the world we live in daily. It’s so true that there is really NOBODY that can say with 100% certainty whether or not a new idea will make it. You say this in a comical way by quoting Diamandis, “The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.” For example, I would not have thought an app like WhatsApp would have succeeded as much as it has since there were already texting apps out there!

  • LeiderGM20

    Hmm I think this is a very interesting article. Definitely provides a point of view I had never even considered before. Not entirely sure I’m ready to disregard majority of expert opinions…but will for sure keep in mind. Thank you for sharing!

  • Theresa Fitzsimmons

    Thank you for writing this article. The one thing that stood out to me was when you said that experts tell you everything about something that cant be done. I agree with this because this holds people back, or the experts are proven wrong. This is important because the experts need to understand that things they do can be improved and made better, making them more like the dreamers. I agree that this is important to believe in the dreamers because they are not held back and believe in expanding on all knowledge. I do not have any personal experiences to share but I really found this article interesting and I agree with it! What do you think about experts that are open minded, that are highly educated and put everything into account? Should we believe in these experts?

  • Hannah Leggett-Hintz

    I think it’s very true that sometimes we’re the only thing holding ourselves back from the greatness we wish to see done in the world. There are so many tremendous things out there, and so much that can still be done. We think we can’t be the people to accomplish these things. We think there is someone out there who can get the job done better than we can. Why is that though? Honestly, why do we so easily belittle ourselves? It serves absolutely no purpose, and just hurts more deeply in the end. Truthfully we all know we can do absolutely anything we put our minds and hearts to. Let the people say no, turn around, punch them, and move forward with your life.

  • Camillewuensch

    This is a great article. It really made me think about the future and I loved that how you put since technology is moving so fast that those people are not huge experts anymore. You also really put into perspective with saying that experts can tell you how something can’t be done. To me an expert is someone that is very knowledgeable and will know or have tested things and know how they don’t work together. But they should also try and help make you think and open up your mind to ask other questions about your idea or invention.

  • Taylor

    I really like the notion that there is no such thing as a quote on quote expert. I agree with you that expert implies perfect knowledge of something and I do not think that is possible. Like you said people understand things through experience and not everybody has the same experiences so everybody’s understanding is going to be different.

  • shackletka05

    Thank you for sharing! I totally agree with this article. Something that really stood ot to me was, “An expert is someone who can tell you exactly how it cannot be done.” Which does make total sense in a way of a dreamer will go after a goal with willingness to try anything to make something work where experts just claim for it to not make sense. Dreamers are the people to follow because those are the ones creating new experiences and drive toward results.

  • Abbey Stibbs

    I completely agree with you! I think that without the dreamers, that nothing would get done in the world. I think that if there were just experts on things that there would be no advancements because the experts would put a stop to a new crazy idea. I think that it is important that we follow our dreams, no matter how outrageous they are, because our dream could be the next big thing.

  • http://www.PeterAlaric.com/ Peter Alaric DeSimone

    Love some of these quotations! Especially from Steve Ballmer. You would think that by now, he would have more respect for Microsoft’s own Research and Development Department (a.k.a. Apple). :-P

    It does make me wonder, though – Windows blatantly ripped off Mac OS, and Bill Gates laughed all the way to the bank. “Windows Phone” seems to be just another iPhone clone. “Surface” is just an iPad + a detachable keyboard. Hell, MS’ first product offering (DOS) wasn’t even written by them; it was developed by a little-known company called Seattle Computer. How can a company as infamously unoriginal as Microsoft continue to dominate the computer world? Is there no justice in Silicon Valley? What’s the point of exerting oneself to innovate something if some naysayer like Steve Ballmer is going to come along and steal the fruits of your labor (right after he finishes ridiculing you for trying)?

    It seems Apple’s market share is on the rise, so maybe the winds are changing. I just don’t understand IP law in this country. Patents are unobtainable for little guys like me, yet anyone with an army of lawyers can produce the most blatantly derivative products they want with no repercussions. Is this an accurate assessment of the situation, or am I being overly pessimistic?

    I think the open source movement (incidentally, something Ballmer referred to as a “cancer”) might just be a response to the perceived futility of attempting to secure IP protections for one’s work. Why bother if it’s going to cost you $30k for the patent and another $100k every time someone infringes it and you have to go after them? That’s a lot of cash to be pouring into a product before you make a single sale. Why not divert that money to R&D, or marketing, or (in my case) ramen noodles? Has the tech sector become so plutocratic that it’s unwittingly giving birth to communism?

  • Katelyn Vaughn

    I agree with you. What is life, if we do not have dreams and aspirations? I like to think that anything is possible, so why not just follow your dreams? I would also have to agree that, dreamers are the individuals you should want to follow because they want/ do create new experiences and go for the things that may seem impossible.

  • Colin HIckey

    This is an eye opening article but I disagree with the statement of experts being too narrow minded. Many experts can be like this and it is entirely understandable that they are trying to keep their jobs. What this article doesn’t take in for account are the experts that are experts on change. Certain computer guys were experts and they used their knowledge to create smaller computers. Everything is changing, and the experts that I believe will continue to keep their jobs are the ones who go with the trend and use their knowledge to create these new ideas instead of holding them back.

  • milleram97

    I like how this article supports the underdog-those who aren’t 100% positive on where they are going, but know that they need to start somewhere. There are no absolutes in materialistic life, and why should it be any different in the economy, business or other endeavors. Ideas fail, but one can learn from them to do better in the future, though how that future will play out none can be sure of.
    When a revolutionary idea comes to mind, one that can change a standard and possibly even the world-for now-just go with it. What have you got to lose in the reality of life? It will keep going on whether we like it or not.