What Causes You to Flip the Bozo Bit on Someone?

clownI try to give people the benefit of the doubt in email or online. We can’t see the other person’s facial expressions. Or hear the music in the language.

However, I flip the Bozo bit when I receive a message from someone as I did this morning on LinkedIn:

Based on your profile, we think you could benefit greatly from earning certification like CSM.

You might not know my professional qualifications—I wrote books that some CSM trainers use.

I immediately flipped the bozo bit on that person. I’m not sure it took me even a nanosecond.

Esther and I described the Bozo bit in Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management like this:

When people are clueless and annoying, we flip the Bozo bit on them.

It only took one clueless—and annoying!—sentence for me to flip the Bozo bit on the person.

I am sure I have been a Bozo before. (Insert big sigh.)

Since I don’t want to be a Bozo, I try to:

  • Do the research on a person’s background. Especially online. This happened to be a LinkedIn request, which I find very funny. If the person had read my profile, I suspect they would not have led with that sentence.
  • Avoid making assumptions.
  • Ask questions first.

When I start with questions, a place of curiosity, I am less likely to be a Bozo.

However, flipping the Bozo bit depends on my history with a person.

Assess the Experience You Have With This Person

My questions are different when I have experience with a person.

  • Is this behavior in or out of character?
  • Does this person’s behavior often tempt me to flip the Bozo bit?

I am way too human. The more negative experience I have with a person, the more likely I am to flip the Bozo bit.

I do try to reset my experiences every so often. Sometimes, I succeed.

However, if this person’s behavior tends to be clueless or annoying, I tend to flip the Bozo bit even faster.

I had no experience with this person this morning. And my first experience is that they don’t take the time to read my experience or publications. That lack of basic reading and research annoyed me. The person showed me they were clueless. I flipped the Bozo bit.

That’s the question this week: What causes you to flip the Bozo bit on someone?

3 thoughts on “What Causes You to Flip the Bozo Bit on Someone?

  1. mlbrowne

    Johanna, I remember talking about “flipping the Bozo Bit” with co-workers back in 1984, during a conversation about how to distinguish between people who merely lacked the “programming bit” or those who were constitutionally more … challenged. Those, we agreed, were not really worth listening to or spending time with. I think that for us, “the Bozo Bit” was necessitated by either a kind of willful, deliberate ignorance or denial of something that any person of normal intelligence or awareness would otherwise be expected to know or understand. Somebody who was simply unaware or unenlightened could be reached, while Bozos couldn’t, no matter how hard we tried.

    When were you and Esther writing about this? Is this another example of “spontaneous eruption” of a concept (sort of like the 100th monkey theory, or was there an earlier point of origin for the term?

    1. Johanna Post author

      Esther and I already knew about the term when we started to write and teach together, in 1999. I don’t remember when I heard the term, but I would not be surprised if I started to use it in the late ’80s. I am almost sure I used it when I worked at Symbolics, 1985-1990. I wonder if we heard of it in the newsgroups at the time? Or, it might have been a spontaneous eruption.

      The Wikipedia article explains how Apple first used it. I suspect that’s when and how you and I started to use the term. While I respect McCarthy’s work, he did not originate the term.

      1. mlbrowne

        J., thanks for the look back in time. You know, as tuned into the software developments as I was at the time, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if it came from Apple or even Microsoft. I had plenty of exposure and insight into those cultures in the early to mid-1980s (IBM, too). It was weird, reading the term, and realizing that more than 35 years has passed since I first heard/used it.

        I will see what else I can find. This is exactly the kind of thing that floats my boat now.


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