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Paul Kimmel

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The Art of Work

March 15, 2010

";If you cannot be strong and you cannot be weak then you will be defeated";. Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Working on a project in Oregon many years ago I was reading Jim McCarthy's book Dynamics of Software Development and came across the term ";Don't Flip the Bozo Bit";. When the bozo bit is flipped on a person it means that their ideas aren't worth listening to. (We changed it to ";don't bite the flip bozo";, which is weird but not important.) Flipping the bozo bit on a person is the school yard bully equivalency of pushing a smaller kid or a dork off the slide. Not a nice thing to do but geeks do it all the time. If your bozo bit has been flipped then it can be a hard thing to unflip.

I was reading Dan Tocchini's In the Twinkle of an ";I";: There is Something New Under the Son. Tocchini is (or was) a police chaplain and runs special counseling sessions. The work is a masterpiece on human nature, suffering, and perspective. Tocchini reminded me of the bozo bit, bit.

In one part of the Tocchini recounts how a close, respected friend offered some criticism. Like people are capable of doing Tocchini's initial response was defensiveness. He felt criticized and unjustly so. Friends and non-friends may criticize at any moment, but it is how one responds to the criticism that makes the difference. If you are open to the criticism, listen to it, examine it, and think about the message without becoming defensive then it is more likely that useful, valuable information may be gleaned from the criticism. If the immediate response is self-defense then there will most likely be a break down with one or all parties flipping bozo bits like crazy. The key is not to internalize all criticism. Some of it comes from bozos. But listening to criticism actively, seeing if there is actionable elements and then deciding what to do can be very constructive and may help build relationships. The alternative is anarchy, a group of bozos, and a stagnant environment. It takes some maturity to listen actively without preparing your counter defenses while the other person is talking and then deciding what to do and maybe accepting the consequences, good or bad.

Unfortnuately ";how to survive the work place without going insane"; is not a course taught in college. Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to have friends that point out instructive books like Tocchini's and have picked up some useful information along the way. I am also fortunate enough to work with a lot of people that don't have an agenda. They act in ways that are constructive and the only agenda is to improve everyone's lot just a bit more.Surviving the workplace is as much about being managing relationships and listening to and accepting criticism as it is your skill level.

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