We measure the economy every day, for example, but our smartest economists just happened to miss the current worldwide recession. We invent a device like the telephone and then predict that it will never replace the telegraph (on the one hand), and that it will bring about a universal language and world peace (on the other).
In the case of the telephone, however, one person in particular got the future right, and well before anyone else. That person happened to be its inventor, Alexander Graham Bell.
In a remarkable 1878 letter to the organizers of the Electronic Telephone Company,
What is stunning about
was a smart guy, perhaps just brighter than the rest of the world. Bell
was living with the telephone eighteen hours a day, year after year. Better than anyone, he understood its capabilities and potential. Bell
was not a scientist but, like Morse, Edison, Ford and Land, was both an inventor and capitalist. These men were interested in what might be theoretically possible and what might sell; “the optimism of their speculation was controlled by a profound concern for the balance sheet.” Bell
Personally, I find the last item especially compelling; when Edison’s notebooks on devising the nation’s first power grid were examined, for example, they showed on every page “calculations of the system’s market potential, the price charged for competing gas illumination, the cost of copper wiring, and other entrepreneurial concerns.”
There's something about pushing a technology ahead with a profit motive in mind that creates a sense of clarity. Most successful entrepreneurs become good at telling the story of a rosy future. Some have a great technology but no business plan. Some have a great business plan but no technology. The ones who succeed have both, or access to both, and clearly separate the real and now from the purely aspirational.
So when we think about Alexander Graham Bell running a (so-called) pre-revenue company, and being so very right about its future, we can assume that being brilliant, living 24/7 with the innovation, and avoiding historical analogy were all contributing factors. Maybe, too, the idea of constantly iterating the possible, the impossible, the practical, and the the profitable was also decisive.