History is littered with those who made monumentally bad predictions. In 1901 Wilbur Wright told his brother, Orville, that man would not fly for fifty years.” Two years later the brothers made a mockery of Wilbur’s prediction. At Yale, a professor gave a student a “C” for his paper suggesting that you could make a business out of shipping packages overnight using a fleet of aircraft. That paper was the basis for FedEx, founded by that student, Fred Smith.
To this list of bad predictors, I’d like to add an overprotective father of a New York teenage girl.
A boy grew up in Brooklyn, fifteen minutes from Coney Island in a working poor neighborhood. His father, who had contracted diseases during his Army service, never rose above a series of blue collar jobs. The high school where the boy played quarterback was so poor that they didn’t even have their own field. Every game was an away game. Imagine your high school homecoming game being played on enemy turf.
One day this young man asked out a girl from a different part of New York. As any father of a teenage girl will tell you, NO boy is good enough for his daughter. But as the father questioned this teenage boy it became apparent to him that this rule of thumb was exceptionally true.
As related by the boy the conversation went like this:
“Where do you live?”
The boy answered, “We live in Brooklyn.”
Not satisfied, the father pressed the interrogation. “Where?”
From the expression of the father of his prospective date the boy could see the opportunity slip away. Again the question, “Where?”
The boy confessed. “Bayview Projects.”
Of course, no self-respecting father was going to let his little angel date some kid from public housing. “Move along son,” may not have been the words but it was the reaction.
If that dad had been a better predictor and judge of potential he may have reacted differently. Despite his humble background, that kid from Bayview Projects in working poor Canarsie managed to graduate from college through a combination of an athletic scholarship, loans, and part time jobs.
He had the vision to see the potential in a small chain of stores that sold quality coffee beans and associated equipment. He imagined how the chain could add Italian style coffee drinks and grow into a respected company that is an icon of not just American, but world culture.
But back in the late ‘60’s in working poor Canarsie, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks coffee, just didn’t make the grade for the father of one high school girl.
Source: Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, by Howard Schulz and Dori Jones Yang.