“They have one job to do. One job to do!” said Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President of the Film Academy. And boy did they mess that one job up. As a consequence, the accountants responsible for collecting votes and handing out the envelopes, Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz from Pricewaterhouse Coopers have been banned from any future involvement in the Oscars (although they will keep their day jobs). Question is, was that a harsh or fair decision?
The details of the Oscar’s gaffe has been plastered all over the news and social streams since it happened last Sunday, so I won’t waste any time regurgitating the entire story but suffice to say that the incident witnessed presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly award the Best Picture gong to ‘La La Land’ instead of the rightful winner which as ‘Moonlight. You’ve most likely watched the scene through your fingers many times so I wont make you relive it again.
It has since transpired that Cullinan was ‘distracted’ by the presence of Emma Stone backstage (who wouldn’t be?) and tweeted (then subsequently deleted) a photo of her just moments before the Best Picture announcement was made. Apparently taking pictures and sharing them on social media is also against the strict protocols laid down by the Academy. Naughty.
However, what I want to focus on in this piece is whether it is appropriate to blame these guys exclusively, whether it is acceptable to be vilified for simply mixing up an envelope and also if they should be rehabilitated given that it is almost guaranteed that they would never make the same mistake twice.
There is a strong argument, often espoused in Silicon Valley, that failure is good. Indeed, I wrote an article about it last year entitled ‘Why Failure is the Key to Success’. In that piece I talked about the movie Apollo 13 where the NASA flight director is famously quoted as saying “failure is not an option”. Well, the truth is that in business (and life in general) there are just too many variables at play which means that failure is more or less guaranteed at some stage. As Sir Richard Branson so eloquently puts it:
“I will work day and night to avoid failure, but if I can’t, I’ll pick myself up the next day. The most important thing… is not to be put off by failure”
Let’s put this incident into perspective. Cullinan mixed up two envelopes. It was a genuine mistake. I’m pretty sure that he didn’t intend to do it. Why would he? It could happen to any of us. Jeez, I’ve even mixed my kids up on occasion (don’t judge), so does that mean I can’t be their father any more?
In my mind, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. In addition, it’s more of a misdemeanour than a crime. Nobody got hurt did they? Maybe a few Hollywood egos got bruised and it was highly embarrassing for everyone involved but other than that, what really happened? Nothing. So why are these two people made to pay such a harsh price? I think the Academy should have of a sense of humour about it. Given the reaction from the likes of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling who just giggled their way through the debacle, maybe the Academy could show a little compassion for Cullinan and Ruiz? Maybe just have a laugh about it and move on without the need to hang them out to dry?
Which brings me onto my final point, also based on another article I wrote called ‘Don’t Play the Blame Game‘. Given that the Academy have been blamed for overt racism and sexism (just to name just a few ism’s) over the past few years and have staunchly defended their position against those who have been swift to cast aspersions against them, they appear to have been very quick to apportion blame to the PwC accountants. Those in glass houses and all that? According to psychologists there are 4 irrational beliefs attributed to those who play the blame game:
- when something goes wrong, then someone has to be to blame
2. that persons (supposed) misconduct diminishes the respect that they deserve
3. as a consequence, it is therefore perfectly acceptable to treat that person in a disrespectful manner
4. you can only accept the minimum amount of blame otherwise your reputation will be tarnished and you too will be treated disrespectfully by others
I would say that in this case, all of these apply. The Academy were swift to blame someone (there just has to be a scapegoat right?), they have treated them disrespectfully, they believe that by blaming others it means others won’t blame them and that their reputation remains in tact. Actually I would say that if they had played down the incident, tried to see the funny side and also accept that it has got the Academy, the Oscars and ‘Moonlight’ some (valuable?) extended PR coverage that it would never have achieved then arguably they should even be grateful that it happened. Let’s face it, the news item would have been dead and buried days ago if this hadn’t occurred.
As digital and social media expert Ben Harries who is CEO at Jump Digital rightly said today:
“It’s funny how contradictory we are. Michael Jordan failed so much it helped him succeed, but these guys #Fail and it’s ‘FIRE THEM’! Logically, they would be the best people to continue doing this job, as they would be 1,000x more careful and it wouldn’t happen again on their watch. And, wtf did she do wrong? He handed the wrong envelope”
So what do you think? Were the Academy right to get rid of the OscarGate PwC accountants? Or have they gone completely over the top? Did the accountants deserve to get booted out of their roles to protect PwC? Was Cullinan culpable over the backstage tweet or have the Academy just used that as an excuse? As ever, I am keen to hear your views…