The late Sir John Gielgud was a gentile old actor of great renown. Successful since a young man, he was greatly loved by actors and audiences alike. He had one little fault if we could call it that; he regularly, but innocently, said ‘the wrong thing’. Standing in the wings of a theatre listening to a lady sing, in a style which might be described as ‘labour pains set to music’, he turned to the man standing next to him and said, “How dreadful!”. “That is my wife!” the man snarled back at him. “Oh no”, he recovered, “I meant the song.” With an ever reddening face the man replied, “I wrote that song!”
A happier mistake occurred in the life of the late great comedian Ted Ray. Whilst performing in a theatre he fell in love, from a distance, with one of the dancing girls. He thought about how to ask her out for a date, and formulated a plan. The lady in question was always the last of the line of dancing girls to leave the stage, and so he waited behind the curtain and, as she approached, he thrust a bunch of flowers in to… the hands of the wrong woman! Unbeknown to him the girls have changed the order of their line-up that night, and equally unbeknown to him the ‘wrong woman’ would prove to be the love of his life with whom he would have a long and happy marriage.
Then there is the debacle at the Oscars. How embarrassing for the ‘La La Land’ people to be stopped mid-speech and told they hadn’t won the award for best picture. They bore it with great dignity, but I would love to have been a fly on the wall once they got off stage. Their language could well have deviated from that used by our own dear Queen Elizabeth. In fairness to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) who were responsible for the blunder, they have overseen the process for 83 years, and this has never happened before. Ironically the two PwC supervisors overseeing the Oscars were very recently asked by the Huffington Post what would happen if a presenter announced the wrong winner at the Oscars.
It is interesting to see the different outcomes to these mistakes. However what about mistakes which have much greater consequences. It was once said that a politician was a man who would lay down your life for his country. Perhaps this cynical tone is not totally without foundation, but there are still those that genuinely seek to help their country. Two such politicians are former British Prime Ministers Tony Blair (Labour) and Sir John Major (Conservative). Recently Mr Blair, and last Monday Sir John, have both raised serious doubts over the process of leaving the EU.
Sir John said, “I have watched with growing concern as the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic,” He continued, “Obstacles are brushed aside as of no consequence, whilst opportunities are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery.” As you would reasonably expect, pro-Brexit MPs reacted angrily and forcefully to this speech with their own side to the story. The inference of Sir John is that the 52% of British people who voted to leave the EU may have made a huge historic mistake; only time will tell. The question certainly puts what happened at the Oscars in to perspective.
Let me end on a more positive note. The business world cannot afford to suffer huge historic mistakes. It needs men and women who have the power to critically analyse and evaluate a broad range of factors, and make accurate and timely decisions of high quality. Teaching MBA and MSc students last weekend I witnessed these skills evidenced by my students who had come to London to develop them further. Their intellectual and critical powers were clearly demonstrated, and I left the room knowing that if I wanted something I could trust, something I could put my faith in, it was the ability of these students, of broad age and experience range, to deliver a future of economic success and prosperity.