Working with Surprises and Mistakes: What the 2017 Oscars Can Teach Us

The Event

As I write this, people are still reeling and talking about what happened last night at the 2017 Oscars with the Best Picture award. The wrong envelope was handed out, the wrong movie was read, and then there was a frantic correction. It almost felt like a plot twist from a Hollywood movie; the underdog coming from behind  to take the top prize after all.

People will be talking about what went wrong and who’s fault it was for some time to come. Warren Beatty clearly felt something was wrong when he opened the envelope, Faye Dunaway just read out the movie name without looking twice. Nobody rushed out until after the people from La La Land were on the stage.

And the La La Land people were gracious. Jordan Horowitz, the producer, announced that they had not actually won and called the Moonlight people to the stage. He snatched away the card with the correct winner and showed it to the audience and cameras. He said he was happy to give the Oscar to the correct winner. And, finally, Moonlight got it’s moment and the chance to make their speeches.

What can we learn?

As we can see, mistakes can happen. Even at the biggest award show with the biggest award. Mistakes can be handled with humor and grace. Sometimes things don’t go as expected. This is true in life and well as award shows. It can also be true in our writing.

In fiction, as in real life, there are consequences for actions. If a character behaves with no consequences, then the audience will quickly grow bored. How someone reacts to a mistake can be as revealing as the mistake itself. Warren Beatty tried to explain what happened with the envelopes. Today the accounting firm in charge of the Oscars is trying to figure out what went wrong.

Oftentimes the best thing one can do is to simply acknowledge the error and move on. It can’t be undone. Life itself gives us plot twists, from time to time. Maybe crack a joke, give a smile and react with humility. The 2017 Oscars give us an example we can follow, as often the best Hollywood movies do.