Worst business blunders in history (and what you can learn from them)

segwayYou know what’s great about others’ misfortune? We can learn from it. Dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of blog posts touch on this topic. They discuss the infamy of Coca-Cola’s decision to change the formula; Decca Studios turning down The Beatles; Mars refusing to allow M&M’s to be used in “E.T.” The lesson is always the same: A missed opportunity, a poor prediction.

But I question recent posts such as the “25 Years of Tech Blunders” slideshow on CNBC. I think it’s too early to tell whether these are indeed blunders.

Follow me here: In nearly every business blunder story, some time passes before the idea that was balked at becomes the billion-dollar behemoth. Some take two years, others take 20. Still others are inspired by century-old designs that “never worked” until resurrected as part of a “new” invention.

Microsoft’s Vista might be regarded today as a business blunder, but who can yet tell if a technology developed for the operating system might later serve as inspiration for something truly fantastic? Or what if people do start scanning bar codes because their cell phones can do it? And how can you refute that Circuit City’s Digital Video Express could be considered the forbearer of NetFlix?

We might yet see the era when we want to enjoy the scintillating smells emanating from our laptops (DigiScent iSmell) or when everyone is cruising along on their Segways — in fact, I think both of these are highly likely.

So before we can truly judge whether a product or business decision is or was a business blunder, we must let ample time pass. Let’s see what the world looks like in 100 years before we start judging.

Image from Segway.

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