You thought they couldn’t get dumber.

Every year, Fortune (and/or one of its sub-publications) publishes its list of the 101 Dumbest Moments in Business. Dumb moment number 51 was customer service related:

Nine-year-old Shea O’Gorman sends a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs suggesting ideas for improving her beloved iPod Nano, including adding onscreen lyrics so people can sing along. She gets back a letter from Apple’s legal counsel stating that the company doesn’t accept unsolicited ideas and telling her not to send in any more suggestions.

I can see why this made it to the list. I can also see why this got a lot of media attention. And unfortunately, I can see Apple why did what they did. However, despite the potential legal issues, I think this deserves to be a dumb moment.

The reason this was a dumb moment was because Apple took a standard policy and overdid it. I’ve talked about the importance of flexible company policies before (and so have others). When company policies are not flexible, they will eventually backfire.

Apple’s policy about rejecting unsolicited ideas is not flexible. They send angry letters to nine-year-olds who love their products and take time to write letters asking for new features because it’s inflexible.

As a company, sometimes you need to take that very small risk of a nine-year-old secretly trying to get a Fortune 500 company to copy her ideas so she can sue to be human. Being human is probably worth that small risk.

I like lawyers and they are often very useful. However, with all due respect to lawyers, most lawyers can’t run most companies. They are programmed (and paid) to be protective and assume the worse. They are programmed (and paid) to minimize risk and protect their clients. These are great traits for a lawyer, but often bad traits for someone designing a policy for a consumer electronics company.

Unreasonable policies are usually for inflexible companies that think unreasonably. Most people don’t think of Apple as one of those types of companies, but in this case, the company’s overprotective policies

Thanks to AllBusiness CS for this pointing out.