doh.jpgIn this economy, the last thing any of us want to do is make a major screw up at work.

Alas, a young aspiring computer engineer from Apple, makers of the iPhone and iPad, is probably crying in his beer this morning.

Apple is crazy secretive about all it’s new products, guarding each invention with a zeal that would make the folks over at Fort Knox envious. And that’s why it’s even more upsetting that the engineer left a prototype for the new iPhone at a bar last month and that prototype ended up in a media explosion begun by tech cyber bible Gizmodo.

This from the website:

It’s a simple, honest mistake. Something that anyone, from Steve Jobs to Jonathan Ive, could have done. Knowing how ferocious and ruthless Apple is about product leaks, those beers may have turned out to be the bitterest of his life.

Indeed, the poor guy may lose his job over this and potentially face serious career damage. But is there a way he could save his butt and his job? If not, will he survive this trauma?

Believe it or not, most successful people have stories to tell of major screw ups they’ve made in their careers. I’ve interviewed hundreds of CEOs and leaders in my career and almost all of them wore the mistakes they’ve made like badges of honor. The key to how they were able to mitigate the damage was quick and direct honestly, and taking responsibility for the faux pas and dealing with it head on.

Some of their blunders caused them to lose jobs, or projects, but more often than not they kept their gigs and ended up learning valuable lessons in the process. Indeed, many credit their mistakes with making them the people they are today.

It’s unclear what the Apple engineer may learn from this, other than not taking company prototypes to German beer bars. But seriously folks, he will also look back on this and laugh.

The former CEO of Sears, Aylwin Lewis, told me he made a major mistake early on in his career by not putting in any systems to stop theft when he was district manager for Jack in the Box.

Here’s are some excerpts from my book “From the Sandbox to the Corner Office: Lessons learned on the journey to the top”:

It was a Monday morning, Aylwin Lewis’ administrative day when he handled inventory and balancing accounts, but on this day he came in a bit earlier than usual, about 4 a.m. because he had a lot on his plate that day. When he drove up to the store he noticed the back door wide open, which was a safety violation for the night crew who were supposed to keep the door closed to keep strangers from coming into the back of the restaurant. At the back door he could see his night cook Tony’s car with the trunk open, and there was Tony loading it up with cases of frozen hamburger patties. “He looked at me and said: ‘I could put a couple of these in your car.’ I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ And I fired him on the spot.”

Lewis was in shock, because Tony was one of the best night shift workers, grilling at the speed of two employees and keeping the kitchen clean and organized. “He was a valuable employee, especially since it was so hard to find good workers for the graveyard shift.” he says.

But the blatant theft, he explains, “was an epiphany for me. I had never thought that people could do that but I was naïve. I realized that when people are together with food and money and things like that you will have a problem if there are no controls.”

And the former the CEO of Air America Danny Goldberg also goofed up early on when he thought he knew better than the market:

When he worked for Atlantic records the company produced a Bad Religion album and Goldberg had decided on what he thought was going to be the break out single. But a local radio station in Los Angeles called KROQ kept playing “Infected”, one of the other songs on the album. Despite that, Goldberg stuck with his choice because of what he now describes at “distorted objectivity.”

In retrospect, he says, he ended up failing Bad Religion because he let his ego get the best of him and did not even listen to his underlings who were encouraging him to take KROQ’s lead. “That could have been a national hit if I read the writing on the wall,” he still laments nearly two decades later.

We all make mistakes. That’s just life. Some boo-boos are worst than others, but in the end we all survive them.

I’m hoping Steve Jobs, who was himself fired once from Apple, shows the young engineer some forgiveness. I’m sure Apple’s leader has a long list of screw ups of his own.

Just to remind him, here are a list of “Steve Job’s Biggest Mistakes” from

The iPod Hi Fi

When Steve Jobs is passionate about something you can tell. While most public speakers attempt to show passion by inflection or yelling (insert developers, developers, developers) Steve uses a more compelling technique. He explains why he loves the product and counts on the audience to feel the same way. It usually does.

However, watching Steve introduce the iPod Hi Fi, you could tell he loved the product, but the love stopped there. The wannabee boom box, probably did sound fantastic (not that many listened to it) but people tend to rip music and collect music in a less than audiophile quality so even if the speakers were fantastic very few would ever be able to tell.


Steve Jobs knew that video was the next wave when it came to creating stuff and his solution was iMovie. iMovie was a remarkable program developed by Glenn Reid. The first iteration was simply mind blowing. Well, film pros detested the thing, but anyone who wanted movie editing at their fingertips drooled over the program. Steve likely imagined iMovie would sell a lot of Macs (it sold at least one, to me) and likened the coming video revolution to desktop publishing.

However, iMovie was held back by the technology of the time. To use it you had to have a digital camcorder, and since most people were still on dial up, even if you made a movie it would take forever for anyone to download it.

The interesting thing is that Steve was right about the coming video revolution (say hello to youtube if you doubt that) but Apple missed the chance to ride the wave.


When OS 9 came out it was mostly there to bridge the gap between Classic Mac OS and OS X. Telling people to upgrade to OS 9 from OS 8 just to help out development isn’t a good sales pitch. So Apple sweetened the pot: Upgrade to OS 9 and iTools came along for free. You’d get a .mac email addy, some web space and a few other goodies. Mac users loved it and Apple killed it. Why? Because of the cost according to Steve.

So Apple replaced iTools with .Mac (which is now .me). Instead of free, users got to pay $99 for the joy of using Apple’s servers. Oddly, almost all of the functionality of the original version of iTools was offered later, and without cost, by other companies. Apple’s chance to lock in Mac users to an Apple service was lost for the sake of a few dollars.

The G5

You remember the G5, right? It was made by IBM and was the first 64 bit chip in a personal computer. Not only was the G5 64 bits, it was screaming fast. The chip that would squash Intel.

But, the G5 didn’t squash Intel and it didn’t move a bunch of Macs. In fact, the G5 held back the laptop line at a time when people were beginning to opt for laptops over desktops. If you wanted a Mac laptop in the G5 era you had to put up with the fact that the G4 was obviously inferior to the G5.

Not only were laptop users made to feel like second class citizens, the chance to really sell 64 bits in all its glory was wasted on a chip Apple wouldn’t stick with.

The original iPhone

How can the original iPhone have been a mistake? The thing sold like crazy, people fell in love. The problem wasn’t with the sales or the acceptance, the problem was with its limitations.

A pokey EDGE connection when all the apps were web-based, a sky high $500 entry price and developer lock out added up to a device that was a lot less than it should have been. That the original iPhone was so widely accepted speaks more to the state of competition at the time and marketing than the quality of the original iPhone.

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