If you haven’t heard by now, Michael Richards who played Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld lost his mind and started hurling racial epithets at hecklers during a show at L.A.’s Laugh Factory. I’m purposefully linking to a story about it where you can then click on the video instead of the video itself as it contains strong language and will be disturbing to some.
As a former stand-up who never made any money from it and was never even good enough to have a heckler, I find this episode grotesquely interesting and immediately made the leap to how businesses can learn something from it. In no particular order:
1. Kramer is not a stand-up performer, or at least doesn’t have a ton of recent experience in it. It’s a very specialized profession – like forklift sales or search engine marketing. You should be very careful about stepping into a new line of business and make sure you have the expertise to handle the market. Otherwise, you’ll fall into the trap of what Peter Lynch calls di-worsification.
2. You’re going to get criticism. Learn how to handle it appropriately. Whether its bad press, someone yelling at you on the phone, or someone posting negative comments about your business on your blog or others out there in cyberspace, make sure you respond quickly and fairly.
Take a look and see whether the attack is fair, apologize when warranted, (sometimes even if you shouldn’t have to), and take steps to both correct this particular problem and prevent similar problems in the future. AND MAKE SURE THE PUBLIC KNOWS ABOUT IT. Although, I can’t even imagine what kind of spin control will be necessary to try to salvage Richards’ image even after a considerable length of time.
3. Be very aware of your public image. In this instance, Richards was performing a work role, but would the response have been different if Richards had gone on a similar tirade at a waiter and that was caught on film? Have fun, but be sure you and your employees are aware that how you act in public represents the company.
When I was probably 16, I did something really stupid in a public setting one summer. Later that week, the headmaster of my school came down to football practice, yanked me out and berated me in front of all my teammates. I didn’t think so at the time, but he was doing the right thing for the school in protecting its image and the right thing for me.
4. The Web has accelerated everything a million times over. Just as you can find out information within seconds now instead of going down to the card catalog at your local library, bad information spreads rapidly. Michael Richards’ page on Wikipedia already has five paragraphs on this incident and it only happened four days ago. AOL is advertising its news service on “Michael Richards” and just try to count all the articles and parodies of the incident on Yahoo! or Google News.
I could go on – I haven’t even touched the obvious inappropratieness of his comments or the underlying attitude – but this should at least be enough to start a discussion. Comments, as always, are appreciated.