Warren Beatty was in a quandary.
At the Academy Awards ceremony last Sunday night Beatty, the Oscar-winning actor/director/producer, was on live TV giving out the biggest award at the biggest event for the industry he has been a part of for over 50 years.
And he didn’t want to do the wrong thing.
By now what happened with the Best Picture award is old news. (If you’ve been asleep since Saturday, Beatty and his “Bonnie and Clyde” co-star, Faye Dunaway, announced the wrong movie to win the Oscar.) What’s interesting to look at from a business perspective is how his split-second decision changed the way the mess unfolded.
Beatty knew something was wrong from the moment he read the card in the envelope. In fact, he looked to see if, perhaps, there was another card. Then he paused and contemplated how to handle the situation.
I don’t know what I would have done under the same circumstances (do any of us?); but we do know how his decision took what could have been an uncomfortable moment for him and a few people backstage, and turned it into an epic blunder impacting him, the production teams of “La La Land” and “Moonlight” and causing cringes throughout the entire audience, including millions of people watching on TV.
Think about it: he knew the card was wrong. It had Emma Stone’s name on it, not the name of the producers. Why would Beatty know that’s wrong? He has one of those cards! He won Best Picture as producer of “Reds” in 1982.
What could he have done differently? In the moment he could have said, “I’m sorry, this is confusing. The name on this card doesn’t seem right.”
Someone would have come out from backstage, maybe the now much-maligned accountant who handed him the card, and said, “Sorry, wrong card.” Then the right name would be announced. The right people would have come on stage. The right people would have dealt with the mishap. And Beatty would be viewed as a hero for stopping what would become the greatest embarrassment in movie award history. (I’d say “award history” in general, but Kanye West coming on stage to challenge Taylor Swift and Beck is still pretty high up there.)
However, rather than raising his hand and potentially looking foolish doing something that no one at the Academy Awards has ever done (that is, stop the ceremony and say, “I think there is something wrong here…”), he decided, in that moment, “I’m not gonna say anything!” He punted. He showed the card to Faye Dunaway, who gleefully announced “La La Land” as the winner.
The rest is awkward television history.
Interestingly, Beatty still gets the blame, though Dunaway actually announced the winner. As well he should. He saw a mistake and chose not to say anything. And it became a bigger mistake.
A valuable lesson in decision making to make us better business people in serving our clients: If you see something wrong, say something right. Bad news doesn’t get better with time, and mistakes don’t get solved by passing the problem on to someone else.