Some of the bad decisions
Date: Thu, 25 Mar 93 11:44:31 PST
Subject: Some of the bad decisions
From: bostic@vangogh.CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
Title: David Frost's Book of the World's Worst Decisions
Author: Frost, David & Michael Deakin
Publisher: Crown Publishers, Inc.
This book is a collection of [supposedly, (see note at end)] truly bad
decisions from the fields of politics, sports, business, science, show
business, and everyday life.
Sam Phillips owned a small recording company in Memphis. In 1955 he sold
to RCA Records, for the sum of $35,000, the exclusive contract he had with
a young man named Elvis Presley, thereby forfeiting royalties on more than
a billion records.
In 1889 the editor of the San Francisco Examiner published one article by
Rudyard Kipling but declined to accept any more. "I'm sorry, Mr. Kipling,"
he said, "but you just don't know how to use the English language."
In 1981 Dora Wilson looked out her window and saw some men loading her
neighbor's priceless Persian carpets into a van. "What are you doing?" she
called. "We're taking them to be cleaned," the men replied. "Will you take
mine too?" she asked. They did, and she never saw the men or the carpets
In 1910 Olav Olavson decided to raise some cash by selling his body to the
Karolinska Institute, for medical research after his death. The following
year he inherited a fortune and tried to buy himself back. The institute
refused to sell and went to court to verify their claim. They even won
damages, since Olav had had two teeth pulled without asking their
In 1938 Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel sold all rights to the comic-strip
character Superman to their publishers for $130, a tidy $65 each.
In 1977 a South African hang-gliding instructor spotted an interesting sight
and made an obscene gesture at a woman who was sunbathing on a rooftop below
his flight path. The woman's husband appeared with a submachine gun and
blasted the birdman out of the sky.
In 1898 young Albert Einstein applied for admission to the Munich Technical
Institute, but was turned down on the grounds that he "showed no promise"
as a student.
In 1880 a house master at Harrow wrote of one of his pupils, "He is
forgetful, careless, unpunctual, irregular in every way.... If he is unable
to conquer this slovenliness he will never make a success of public school."
The boy in question was Winston Churchill.
In 1940 the British Secret Service decided that microfilms must be made of
all personnel records, in case the originals were damaged by enemy action.
It was only when the originals were, in fact, destroyed by enemy action that
it was discovered that the photographer had cropped the top of every
negative so the name of the person to whom the file referred was missing.
In 1862 the Union and Confederacy forces met at the Battle of Antietam.
The Union forces under General Burnside were ordered to cross the Potomac
River and join battle with the enemy. They marched across the bridge two
abreast, making an ideal target for Confederate gunners placed so as to
command the bridge. The slaughter was appalling. General Burnside had
failed to notice that the river was only waist deep and could have been
crossed at any other point in perfect safety.
In 1886 prospector Sors Hariezon decided to sell his South African gold
claim for $20. Over the next 90 years, mines sunk on or near his claim
produced over a million kilograms of gold a year, 70% of the gold supply of
the Western world.
During the 1950's when the BBC's new broadcasting facilities were built,
the corridors were narrow and labyrinthine. The Music Department became
concerned about the difficulties they would face in transporting their grand
pianos from one studio to another, and decided on a series of trials to find
the easiest route. They asked the BBC carpenters to make a plywood mockup
of a full-size piano rather than risk one of their expensive instruments.
The model was duly constructed -- and found to be too large to pass through
the door of the carpentry shop.
[NOTE: I editorialized with a "supposedly" because in several cases it's
arguable whether any other decision would have worked better than the
"bad" one mentioned - for example, Sam Philips didn't have the money and
connections to promote Elvis the way RCA did, so his decision to sell
Elvis' exclusive contract was probably a very good one. -psl]
© 1993 Peter Langston