Isenberg's Favorite Quotes

On Intelligence & Stupidity

"You have to be willing to learn all over again, to reinvent yourself. You have to be stupid." Christos Cotsakos, CEO, E*Trade, in Inc, December 1997, p. 68.

"In a world of dumb terminals and telephones, networks had to be smart. But in a world of smart terminals, networks have to be dumb."  George Gilder, in The Coming of the Fibersphere, Forbes ASAP, December 7, 1992).

"When I read Rise of the Stupid Network I was overcome with what I call the moment of DUH ! You know that moment when you come across something that is so blatantly, painfully, beautifully, obvious and your mind is filled with wonder .... shortly thereafter followed by 'why didn't I think of that.'" Martin C. Ahern, SMART person,, April 6, 1998.

On Predicting the Future

"Long range planning does not deal with future decisions, but with the future of present decisions." Peter F. Drucker.

"Never make forecasts, especially about the future." Attributed to movie mogul Sam Goldwyn.

"Who, after all, can plot a single day's journey on the water, much less foresee a life that follows no riverbed?" Steve Faulkner in DoubleTake, Winter, 1998.

"Quantitative analysis works wonders when all the assumptions are accurate and the variables selected are the right ones. This happens approximately once every million years." From The 21st Century Intranet by Jennifer Stone Gonzalez (see

"One could reasonably expect the Chairman of AT&T to know what his corporation will be in 10 years from now. He doesn't. One could, within reason, expect the Chairman of AT&T to be able to predict how technology will transform his business a decade hence. He can't. At the least, he should know who his major competitors will be in 2005. Stumped again. But here is what he does know: something startling, intriguing and profound is afoot." Robert E Allen, Chairman & CEO, AT&T, March 1995.

"Planning ahead is a measure of class. The rich and even the middle class plan for future generations, but the poor can plan ahead only a few weeks or days." Gloria Steinem, "The Time Factor," Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, 1983.

"Whatever you're doing now is irrelevant. So bust your butt, put together the best thing you possibly can, and be completely prepared to throw the whole damn thing out in 14 months from scratch. I really think that that's what's going to be required in 1998 and beyond -- a shameless willingness to cover your face with egg and, for all practical purposes, start all over again from scratch." Tom Peters - from

On the Year 2000 Problem

"[A rumor] breeds best in a society which is deprived of factual information. What is read in the newspapers is reduced to the status of propaganda, whereas what is heard on the grapevine is elevated to fact." Elizabeth Wong,
head of the Malaysian human rights group Suaram, during 1998 Malaysian economic crisis.

"All financial markets are belief systems. We all put money in a bank and then borrow out ten times as much and feel safe. Why? Because we believe in each other as a system. I have never been part of a important or novel business, trade, transaction, deal, or event that did not have its success begin and end in faith." Austin Fitts, SMART Person (, July 1998 email.

"In the control room there were three audible alarms sounding, and many of the 1600 annunciator lights (little rectangles of plastic with some code numbers and letters on them) were on or blinking. The operators did not turn off the main audible alarm because it would cancel some of the annunciator lights. The computer was beginning to run far behind schedule; in fact it took some hours before its message that something might be wrong with the PORV finally got its chance to be printed. Radiation alarms were coming on. The control room was filling with experts; later in the day there were about forty people there. The phones were ringing constantly, demanding information the operators did not have." From a description of the Three Mile Island accident in Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies by Charles Perrow (1984, Basic Books, New York) p. 28.

"Who knows which of today's short-sighted policies will turn out to be tomorrow's nightmare." Tom Abate, San Francisco Examiner, December 29, 1996.

"The code is broken. The deadline is fixed. We're not good at meeting deadlines." Peter deJager, April 8, 1998.

"There is no Plan B." Charles Rossotti, U.S. Internal Revenue Service chief, early 1998.

"At the present pace, it is clear that not all mission critical systems will be fixed in time." Gene L. Dodaro, U.S. GAO Assistant Comptroller, early 1998.

"Y2K happened because people were trying to do a good job, not because they were trying to do a bad job."  Austin Fitts, January 14, 1998.

"We didn't want to spin the clock on our own systems forward to the last days of 1999 and the first days of 2000, because some of our software licenses would have expired," says Len Neuzil, senior VP of production systems, Comdisco, in Information Week, April 20, 1998.

"Every enterprise must assume that its communications infrastructure is at risk from year 2000 problems until it is proven otherwise." Howard Klein, Senior Analyst, Gartner Group, late 1997.

"As of year-end 1998, 80 percent of customer premises voice/call processing equipment will not be year 2000 compliant, and 30 percent of the installationsâ individual components will need to be upgraded or replaced to avoid service-affecting failures (0.7 probability)." Howard Klein, Senior Analyst, Gartner Group, late 1997.

"Only 0000 days left until the year 2000." Broken counter on US Government Website, late 1997.

On Corporate Culture

"Innovation requires us to systematically identify changes that have already occurred in a business - in demographics, in values, in technology or science -- and then to look at them as opportunities. It also requires something that is most difficult for existing companies to do: to abandon rather than defend yesterday." Peter Drucker in Inc Magazine, March 1996.

"It is a myth that people resist change. People resist what other people make them do, not what they themselves choose to do. . . . That's why companies that innovate successfully year after year seek their people's ideas, let them initiate new projects and encourage more experiments." Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in The Vineyard Gazette, sometime during the summer, 1997.

"I don't want yes men around me. I want everyone to tell the truth, even if it costs them their jobs." Attributed to movie mogul Sam Goldwyn.

"I probably worked just as hard at AT&T as I do now. It was just on the wrong things: the power struggles, the budget debates, the political issues." Alex Mandl, CEO Teligent, in Inc, December 1997, p. 57.

On the Microsoft Monopoly

"It is a sad but telling fact that in the high-tech field, virtually no business plan will be financed today without a convincing answer to the question of what is to be done about competition from Microsoft." from "High-Tech Hypocracy about Government," Mitch Kapor in the New York Times, May 26, 1998.

On the Social Nature of Work

"The highest bandwidth network of all is found between the water fountain and the coffee machine." Davenport, T.H. Think Tank: The Virtual and the Physical, CIO, November 15, 1995.

"Almost all work is group work and, in fact, what we see at the computational level is really a social revolution. What is the Internet about? It's really about people communicating. That's what MUDS are about, that's what email is about, that's what the Mosaic pages are about. So, if you are really going to study how people work in groups and communicate with each other and you want to study a new product, the prototype has to replicate the social interaction, which means it has to work." Don Norman -- From

On Strategy

"This is not a company adrift, searching for some elusive silver bullet." Bob Allen, at AT&T shareholders meeting, May 1997.

"You can't depend on your judgement when your imagination is out of focus." Mark Twain.

"When you play the whole football game on your side of the 50 yard line, you generally lose the game." Joe Nacchio, CEO Qwest, in Inc, December 1997, p. 58.

"There are no "dumb decisions." Everybody has a problem to solve. What makes for bad design is trying to solve problems in isolation, so that one particular force, like time or market or compatibility or usabilility, dominates." Don Norman - From

On Science

"Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought." Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.

On Technological Change

"Dinosaurs were highly successful and lasted a long time. They never went away. They became smaller, faster, and more agile, and now we call them birds." Mark Halper in Forbes ASAP, June 2, 1997.

"In the times of rapid change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." Eric Hoffer.

"Who will pave my information super-driveway?" Zigurd Mednieks in Telirati Newsletter #31, 12 Oct 1998.

"If, while traveling, I send a turn-yourself-off message to my stove and it replies 'Unable to respond due to fire wall,' should I send my garden hose a spray-the-house message?" Steve Cummings, quoted in Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization, June 4, 1998

"Technological change is unstoppable, but what is not certain is whether we will as a country take the actions necessary to guarantee that all Americans, and all peoples of the world, will realize all the benefits of modern technology." Reed Hundt (when he was Chairman of the FCC), 2/7/97.

" . . . [N]etworks have always been designed where bandwidth, particularly long-haul bandwidth, has been the expensive and scarce part of the design. . . . [A] circuit-switch network, [costs] enormous amounts of money -- at the physical capital level and the software level and human intellectual capital level -- to manage every piece of bandwidth and to control it. We flipped that model. We believe bandwidth is relatively inexpensive under our model and quite abundant." Joe Nacchio, CEO, Qwest in Business Week Online.

"Fat pipes are the best QOS." David Newman of Data Communications, 1/16/98.

"Technologies embody ideas, and those ideas are frequently fouled up." Phil Agre, Professor of Communications, UCLA.

"Digital technology in particular always arrives on the scene with a chip on its shoulder. Its aggressive challenge to us may be a noble challenge, but part of what makes a challenge noble is the real danger of being overcome by it." Stephen L. Talbott in NetFuture #66, Feb 24, 1998.

On Internet Stock Mania

"If I taught a class, on my final exam I would take an Internet company and ask [my students], 'How much is this company worth?' Anyone who would answer, I would flunk." Warren Buffett, quoted in the Industry Standard Media Grok, May 5, 1998.

Date last modified: 31 August 1999