Top 10 dumbest things I've seen or done in the workplace

Steve Tobak recalls things he's witnessed or experienced over the years that can get someone fired, sued or even arrested.

In 20-plus years in high tech, I've witnessed and done some really stupid things.

I'm talking about things that were embarrassing, unethical, incompetent or just plain dumb. This kind of stuff can get you fired, sued or even arrested. In a worst-case scenario, it can cause the demise of a company.

Keep in mind that some of this stuff is politically incorrect, racy, or even illegal, which is precisely why it's so dumb. So if you get offended by that sort of thing, be forewarned. Also, some of these things didn't exactly happen "in the workplace," but rather elsewhere with co-workers. Close enough.

Top 10 dumbest things I've seen or done in the workplace:

10. In 1982, a design engineer who worked for me at Texas Instruments once came into work--where we worked on defense programs that required a security clearance--tripping on acid.

9. An unknown practical joker put a whole dead fish in a filing cabinet at chipset maker Opti Technologies . We eventually found the source of the stench, which had permeated the entire building. The file was labeled "FISH."

8. In an open cubicle area, a senior manager actually did a derogatory imitation of a black slave, saying "yassuh massa" to another senior manager. An African-American employee worked in the cubicle next door. Amazingly, nobody was sued.

7. Microprocessor upstart Cyrix's CEO insisted on selling processors for $1 more than comparable Pentium processors from Intel. When that failed, he decided to launch Cyrix-branded PCs. The CEO eventually "resigned."

6. Trying to format a floppy disk in a hurry, I accidentally formatted the hard drive of my boss's Compaq Portable II (this was 1987). He lost all his data. He was really pissed, but he didn't fire me. Thankfully, hard drives were only 40 megabytes back then.

5. The CEO of Stac Electronics elected to compete with Microsoft instead of licensing Stac's data compression technology to the software giant. To be fair, it did seem like the lesser of two evils at the time. Stac won a subsequent patent infringement lawsuit but ultimately didn't survive.

4. After National Semiconductor acquired Cyrix, National's CEO tried to introduce me at a companywide quarterly meeting. Unfortunately, I wasn't there. It didn't seem that important to show up, at the time.

3. A sales manager at NEC used to repeatedly throw his letter opener at employees as they left his office. The wall by his office door was riddled with knife marks. He later brought a gun into work and was terminated.

2. After-hours at a tradeshow in Atlanta, several male executives of a public company took female employees--at their request--to a gentlemen's club. Again, there were no lawsuits.

1. During a pitch to a venture capitalist, I gripped a mechanical sample of a MEMS subsystem--made of silicon--too tightly, and it shattered in my hands. Reliability was supposed to be a key selling point.

What incredibly stupid things have you witnessed or done at work? You might want to be careful about naming names.

 

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