Oops

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This is the 29th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.


An irate banker demanded that Alexander Graham Bell remove “that toy” from his office.
That toy was the telephone.
A Hollywood producer scrawled a curt rejection note on a manuscript that became “Gone with the Wind.”
Henry Ford’s largest original investor sold all his stock in 1906.
Roebuck sold out to Sears for $25,000 in 1895.
Today, Sears may sell $25,000 worth of goods in 16 seconds.
The next time somebody offers you an idea that leaves you cold, put it on the back burner.
It might warm you up.


I thought it would be fun to update the list a bit, with four of my “Oops” moments.

  • The first book of the Harry Potter series written by JK Rowling was turned down by 12 publishers in 1996 before Bloomsbury accepted it. Since then over 450 million copies of the series have been sold all over the world, in at least 68 different languages.
  • In 1972, three men, working in a garage, started a personal computer company. One of the partners, Ronald Wayne, thought the project was too risky, and sold his 10% share for $800. Today, those Apple shares would be worth over $60 billion. Of course, Apple had its own Oops moment years later when they let Steve Jobs go…
  • Roebuck might actually be happy today that he is no longer involved with Sears.
  • Six NFL teams picked a quarterback ahead of him, along with 198 players overall. Since that 2000 draft, Tom Brady has led the New England Patriots to six Super Bowls, winning four of them, and he is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. None of the six QBs picked ahead of him in the draft still play in the NFL.

The list could go on and on, and I am sure many of you have your own favorite examples of where someone made a decision, only to find out later it didn’t turn out so good.

But of course, that’s the nature of decision making; not every decision will be the right one, since there is almost always some uncertainty involved when making choices.

Rather than criticize such decisions, I first think people need to be commended for their willingness to put their career and reputation on the line by making a decision. There are likely many more people who opt to avoid making a decision, and I think that type of behavior is much more troubling.

Then, once the decision has been made, the decision maker needs to go back and analyze what went right, what went wrong, and why. That way, the decision maker can learn from his or her mistakes, and do a better job next time.

But if you just stand on the sidelines and let someone else make all the decisions, you’ll never get to be an effective decision maker. and as as result you’ll likely miss out on some wonderful opportunities.

So here’s to all those “Oops” out there – bravo for your willingness to take a risk, learn from your mistakes, and better luck next time.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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