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Nobody keeps statistics on the stupid things people say and do. But if they did, the chart would look like a tech stock on steroids.

Not the kinds of flubs you find out about in an academic case study one year after it happened.

I’m talking about pure “rip the bandage off, what were they thinking, why didn't anybody stop them” acts of red-faced embarrassment.

Marketing software company HubSpot asks in their blog: “Done a wellness check on your CEO?”

How else can you explain AirAsia's CEO posting a photo of himself shirtless receiving a massage on LinkedIn? Or HBO’s chief ordering his staff to devise fake Twitter accounts to attack TV critics? Or a tech conference CEO creating fictional women speakers when the real ones dropped out?

People can bring a company down faster than any competitor can.


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Appoint what I call the Crisis Prevention Officer (CPO). Their job description is simple: build and uphold a strong impartial checks and balances system. Think of them as your engine temperature warning light.

Recruited from outside the company, a CPO integrates into the approval process for press releases, images, social media posts, statements, and marketing campaigns. They have the “license” to reasonably question, suggest changes in, and object to words, images, ideas and actions that may provoke angry blowback from customers, the public, and critics. Ideally, they should come armed with better solutions.

Because a CPO should be able to tell anybody from the CEO on down “That idea will get us in trouble and here is why” without fear of retaliation, their salary is paid in advance and they report solely to the board.

The ideal CPO should be able to present their views calmly and rationally because they will impact ideas that people feel passionate about and may not recognize as flawed or even dangerous.

By any calculation, it costs far less money to hire a CPO than endure a full-blown PR crisis, which can run up into millions of dollars, impacting reputation, revenue, clients, staff, investors, and recovery, while leaving a permanent online legacy.

The CEO always has the final word. It’s up to them whether they want to follow the CPO’s judgment or not. However, it won’t take long to find out if the advice saved their skins.     

decision buddies

Buddy systems have prevented losses and accidents on school field trips and swimming lessons since the Stone Age. Now it’s time to implement one for business.

Every professional should have a Decision Buddy, a straight-shooting trustworthy sounding board who can talk you out of potentially embarrassing situations on a reciprocal basis.

That questionable sentence you’re wondering about in the company layoffs memo? The buzzy marketing stunt that may possibly tick off an activist group? The sarcastic shot you want to take at your biggest competitor on Instagram?

Run it by them first.

A Decision Buddy is not paid to say “yes” to every brilliant thing you do. They encourage you when things look good, maybe even refine your thoughts, and stop you from heading off a cliff.

A Decision Buddy's responsibility is a lot like staying sober while your friend drinks: you look out for their safety and they will reciprocate looking out for yours.

The best Decision Buddies have five characteristics:


  • Works In the same or an adjacent industry, but not necessarily the same company.

  • Objective and forthcoming to say what they think and why.

  • Not clouded by their relationship to see things for what they really are.

  • Respected so they won’t receive backlash.

  • Has your best interests at heart, even if it may be hard for you to hear.


Creatives have long had Decision Buddies in their circles.


According to The New Yorker, after director Steven Soderbergh gave candid editing advice to screenwriter Scott Frank when he was directing his first film, the two of them didn’t speak for a while. When Frank got stuck working on his second film, he bit the bullet and called Soderbergh for help. Frank subsequently returned the favor: after seeing a rough cut of Soderbergh’s “Contagion” film, he persuaded the director to shave 45 minutes off the film to make the narrative work.


“The fact that he was right, coupled with the fact that he got to be tough on me, was probably a necessary and helpful step in our reconnecting,” Soderbergh told the magazine.

This relationship underscores why executives should have Decision Buddies too. 


Scare tactics give CEOs and their team nightmares about horrible consequences to keep them up at night.

Bloomberg News reported viral TikTok videos shaming companies for the clunky way they conducted their layoffs  prompted panicked CEOs to hire HR consultants for overhauling and improving their termination scripts and protocols.

Visuals are very important for maximum scare tactic impact. If you print out at least 25-30 articles about Balenciaga’s child marketing scandal, Bud Light’s bungling of Pride Month (which Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary said he would lecture about at business schools), and Adidas’ long-delayed parting of ways with Kanye West after his anti-Semitic rants, and pile them up at an executive meeting, you can make your point clearly:

Don’t think it can’t happen to you.


Underscore it by reading them the opening line to Axios' embarrassing article about fintech start-up Carta:

“Every now and then, a company or leader makes a communications blunder so ghastly that you can't look away.”

There is not an executive alive who would want to be the subject of that kind of damaging attention.

Every time a self-inflicted crisis blows up in the press, share it widely. Trust me – you won’t run out.

One of the quickest CEO implosions in recent memory was Paddy Cosgrave of the global tech industry event Web Summit. His anti-Israel tirade on Twitter shortly after the Hamas invasion of October 7, 2023 forced Google, Intel, Meta, Siemens and others to pull their sponsorships and attendance, leaving the conference in shambles.

Cosgrave’s subsequent resignation letter is a particularly potent document to frame on the wall: “Unfortunately, my personal comments have become a distraction from the event, and our team, our sponsors, our start-ups and the people who attend. I sincerely apologize again for any hurt I have caused.”

batten down the hatches

Imposing certain rules and making some practical assumptions are like plugging the leaks in a corporate dam.



As Mr. Cosgrave discovered, the easiest way for somebody to let off some frustration or anger is to pick up their mobile phone and tweet something they will regret almost instantly. To avoid that, the username and password for a CEO’s X account should be handed over to the head of communications – and the password changed.

LinkedIn accounts should be treated the same way. Since many more executives are familiar with this platform than tweeting, this outlet needs to be tightly controlled as well.

No bigger cautionary tale for LinkedIn than AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes, who sparked widespread outrage after he posted a photo of himself shirtless in a conference room receiving a massage.




It is fairly common for internal memos to be discreetly forwarded by employees to friends and reporters, especially if they have a bone to pick. Reporters love receiving information that was not meant for outside eyes, especially if it reveals corporate plans, embarrassing confessions and setbacks, and abrupt personnel moves.

Either share important announcements in person or buy software which prevents emails from being forwarded. 



While conducting mass layoffs over Zoom has become more common, many employees are taping them on their mobile phones and posting on TikTok. 

“The trend is part of a movement driven by Generation Z and millennials to share every aspect of their lives on social media,” said a recent NY Times article. 

Nothing wrong with that. However, if the execution is botched or comes across as unnecessarily mean or unjustified, that video can backfire as a “how not to” example and hamper future recruiting for top talent. 

Cloudflare was a public punching bag after it let two unknown people terminate employee Brittany Pietsch for an out-of-nowhere “performance review." Pietsch taped her confrontation with these two deer-in-the-headlights who couldn’t provide any information on her performance while she defended her record from the short time she was there.

So make absolutely sure that whoever is doing the job handles every aspect correctly, humanely, and sympathetically. They should pretend that thousands of people are watching.

I dream of a better world where all the stupid things people say and do are kept in the privacy of their own homes and offices. One where there'd be less CEOs apologizing on social media because there would be less to apologize about. A world where investors can sleep through the night knowing they won't wake up to find one of their investments imploded from something stupid they did.

Is it possible? Yes. As long as we are honest with ourselves that we are our own worst enemies, and need to shut up more often. And if we can't, somebody needs to stop us.

"Men are not prisoners of fate,
but prisoners of their own minds."


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