Friday, November 4, 2011

Don't flip the Bozo bit

Can anyone out there make any sense of the above statement?

When I first saw it, I couldn't even work out how to parse it grammatically, let alone extract meaning from it. I kept asking myself, "Who did the Bozo bite?"

And yet, from the time I first saw it and had it explained, this rather cryptic sentence has been the mainstay of my approach to professional relationships, and it has served me well.

History lesson

I was introduced to this phrase many years ago, at a computer conference. A speaker was giving a talk entitled "How to deliver great software on time." On the screen behind him was a list of rules, which he spoke to most eloquently. In the middle of the list, amongst a number of things that I could at least pretend to understand, was this mysterious phrase.

Don't flip the Bozo bit.

The Enlightenment

When he came to explain this rule, it all made sense. "Bozo", he explained for the benefit of his mostly British audience, was a clown in America. The "bit" referred to a concept in electronics and computing, where circuit boards often have rows of tiny switches, or data records have sets of binary "flags" or "bits." Each one can be flipped "on" or "off" to denote a state or property of the circuit or data.

The concept of the phrase was to imagine each of us has such a set of "bits" in our heads. One of them is the "Bozo bit." Flip that into an "on" position and it means that the person is henceforth flagged as a Bozo, a clown. Someone not to be taken seriously.

This is a setting that you can choose to set on or off in other people.

The Lesson

The lesson is simple. Don't do it. Don't flip that Bozo bit in other people's minds. Don't assume the other person is stupid.

Everyone has reasons to talking or acting the way they do. Just because you don't understand it doesn't mean it's wrong. They may even be mistaken, but possibly for honest reasons.

If you take something you don't understand as a cue to regard that person as stupid, you do both them and you a disservice. You have effectively ruled them out as a useful contributor to any future discussions. It hurts them, it hurts you, it hurts all future team interactions.

Don't do it.

Don't flip the Bozo bit.


  1. Great reminder! It's so easy to make snap judgments these days, esp. when our relationships tend to be limited due to time/rushing/other commitments.

  2. Yeah, I saw Bozo and immediately thought of clown. Never knew that was a strictly "American" thing, but I did make the appropriate association right away . . . so maybe it is.

    And, ah I see: so this is akin to saying: "don't flip the crazy switch!"

    Gotcha! That does make sense, actually. I shall endeavor not to do that. :)

  3. Interesting post. I've found with the internet giving you access to so many people it's often very easy to flip that switch without intending to. People have very different switch sensitivities. In real life it's much easier to see the signs, i think, and course correct. Still, there's always the sincere apology.

    Moody Writing
    The Funnily Enough

  4. Melodie, limits on time certainly don't help, that certainly limits our willingness to be patient.

    David, I've not heard that saying either, but it sounds very similar.

    Mood, the most dangerous aspect is that the switch-flipping of the other person happens in your own mind, so it's very difficult to realise that you've even done it.

  5. I'd never heard that phrase, but it's brilliant. I'm glad you explained it though. lol

  6. Donna, yes, it did need explanation didn't it? But is it any wonder that it's stuck in my mind all these years?

  7. Bozo may have been crazy in a fun way, but for those us who grew up watching Poltergeist and reading It, Bozo paints crazy in a ripping-off-arms kind of way.

    Don't flip the Bozo bit? Great advice to follow lest you might get strangled by a toy or lured into a storm drain.


  8. Pam, sounds like you've been influenced by Stephen King with that talk of arm-ripping and storm drains. Yeah...clowns can be scary!


I love comments. Please feel free to join in the discussion.

I also try to respond to comments. I usually do so during the early evening (Pacific time) which may be many hours away from now!

So if you leave a comment and return some time later and I haven't responded yet, please don't think I'm ignoring you. I'm not. Honest.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...