robert goddard, the fraud

Don’t remember how I ran across this – I think this past week  it was Robert Goddard’s birthday or anniversary since he first invented the rocket. In any event, I ran across the article in the TIME 100 about him. I had no idea that, at the time he published his first paper on rocket technology, most of his colleagues did not believe it to be viable technology. Even worse, the New York Times, in a 1920 article, stated:

As anyone knew, the paper explained with an editorial eye roll, space travel was impossible, since without atmosphere to push against, a rocket could not move so much as an inch. Professor Goddard, it was clear, lacked “the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.”

Needless to say, they were just a bit, shall we say, off the mark.

To me, the story serves as an interesting reminder to think carefully when you hear about someone’s “crazy” ideas. It reminds me of some of the harsh criticisms I’ve heard doled out by VCs against fledgeling companies. It reminds me of a story I heard about a very, very good lawyer turning down a couple of entrepreneurs as clients as they were kind of scruffy and had ideas that were a bit out there (only to see them sell their company for hundreds of millions just a couple of years later). It reminds me that in Canada, growth of fledgeling companies – real innovators and risk takers – just doesn’t seem to happen at the same level it does down in the US – not nearly the same. It reminds me that very few companies who start in Canada (assuming their founders don’t decide just to move to the US) stay to grow in Canada.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that there aren’t any silly, stupid and just plain crazy entrepreneurs out there who’s ideas aren’t worth a plug nickel and whose plans are doomed to failure. But even then, it makes me wonder whether here, in Canada, we have perhaps gotten too conservative, too critical and too quick to dismiss things that might, just might, work out very well. I wonder sometimes if Canada has become the New York Times circa 1920.