You’ve probably heard about the Best Picture mistake from the 89th Academy Awards. For those of you that haven’t, here’s what happened as I watched from my living room.
As Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway went through the list of nominees, I felt a pang of guilt, as I do every year, for not seeing most of the movies. “Next year will be different,” I said to myself. Even my dog looked skeptical.
When it came to the envelope, Beatty looked seriously confused. This was the first indication that something was wrong. It was almost like he didn’t want to read it. He showed the envelope to Dunaway, who paused, then announced La La Land as the winner.
Okay, no huge surprise. Moonlight had a good night, so there was a chance for an upset. I wasn’t counting out Hidden Figures or Manchester by the Sea either. But La La Land took the prize. Or so we thought.
The second hint that something was amiss came during producer Jordan Horowitz’s acceptance speech. After a few seconds, you could see a man with a headset frantically checking Oscars and looking for the red envelope. “Uh oh,” I thought. “Maybe there was a tie.” (There have been six ties in Oscar history, but never in the Best Picture category.)
Then, it happened. Horowitz had turned to see what was going on, then turned back to the microphone and made an announcement. “There was a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture. This is not a joke. Come up here. Moonlight has won Best Picture.”
“Whoa! What the…?” I shouted from my couch. I’m sure I wasn’t alone.
Mistakes, both big and small, happen every day. How you deal with a mistake in the moment can be as important to your business as how you handle success.
To illustrate this point, let’s look at how three key people reacted to the Best Picture blunder and the lessons for your business.
Warren Beatty – After the revised announcement, the folks from Moonlight started to gather on the stage to collect their Oscars. You could see Beatty angling to get to the microphone. When he finally did, he wanted to clear up that it wasn’t his fault. He explained that the envelope he had was incorrect and that was why he was so confused.
As an Oscar-winning director and 14-time nominee, Beatty has a legacy to protect. Still, he interrupted an already chaotic moment that should belong to the newly crowned winners. It looked like he was most concerned about shifting the blame to someone else.
This is a natural human reaction. No one wants to look bad, but timing is also important. In the immediate aftermath of a mistake, you need to focus on how you can help make things better. There will be a time for investigations and post-mortems. You need to put your ego aside and be part of the solution.
Jordan Horowitz – Horowitz and his La La Land crew are the people most impacted by the mistake. Not only did he lose a nice decoration for his mantle, he lost the money and prestige that comes with producing a Best Picture winner. He was holding an Oscar in his hand while giving an acceptance speech. I can’t imagine what it was like to have that taken away.
Despite this, he handled the situation with unbelievable grace. He appeared genuinely honored to hand the trophy over to his competitors. He knew they earned it. I’ll bet a lot of studio executives, directors, and actors would want to work with a producer that possesses such class and integrity.
When you’re affected by someone’s mistake, it’s easy to get mad and focus on the extra work or cost. Sure, it’s important to hold people accountable and make sure you prevent future mistakes. But, in the moment, your reaction can shape the way partners, customers, or clients look at you for the rest of your career. A mistake is an opportunity to show patience, understanding, and willingness to work together to solve the problem. Demonstrating these traits will create a valuable impression that endures long after a mistake is forgotten.
Jimmy Kimmel – Kimmel was the host. He obviously had nothing to do with the mistake, but he quickly stepped in and diffused the situation. He helped clear up the confusion and ended up making a great joke about how he knew he was going to screw up the Oscars this year.
Leaders have the power to escalate or de-escalate the situation. By getting angry and looking for blame, you can make people defensive or fearful, limiting their immediate effectiveness. Or, they can work to calm the situation, giving everyone involved the assurance they need to start fixing the mistake right away.
I feel bad for everyone involved with the Best Picture announcement. But, like the best movies, you can learn a lot if you look closely.