BOFH: There are no wrong answers, just wrong questions. Mmm, really wrong ones

Boss, are you blushing?


Episode 12 "Look, all we want you to do is take this simple test which will tell us your personality type and the things you respond to," the Boss burbles.

"Angry, and Free Beer!" the PFY chips, strolling into the conversation.

"Oh good, I was hoping to catch you," the Boss says, turning to the PFY after a fruitless 10 minutes trying to get buy-in from me. "We have this little questionnaire that we're getting all the staff to do - it's to help us understand each other's personality types and the way we work together."

I have to give the PFY credit - I was expecting a ritual murder outcome which would serve as both a considered response and a warning to others - but he's handled himself well.

"You fell!" I say to the Boss kindly moments later as I help him groggily to his feet while he pinches his nose to stop the blood flow, "And you hit your face on the desk!"

"And definitely not a fist," the PFY adds.

"I... I.." he mumbles confused "If I.. hit my face on the desk why is there no blood there?"

"You fell!" I said to the Boss again as I once more help him to his feet "And you hit your face on the desk!"

"Oh. What was I doing before that?"

"You were talking about the time you crapped your pants while reading a fitness mag at WH Smiths," the PFY says, unable to stop himself. "Maybe you have low blood sugar or something."

I help the Boss back into his office while the PFY cleans up his desktop.

All to no avail of course. Within a couple of hours the Boss has emailed everyone the link to the bottom-feeders who make a living off talking companies into getting web-based personality tests for their staff. He's even gone as far as sprinkling the words "team-player" and "mandatory" in the email.

"I just want to assure you that there are no wrong answers in these questionnaires," the Boss says calmly the next morning. "We're just interested in the ways we all work so that we can create future project teams with people suited to working with each other. The whole company's doing it - not just I.T."

While the survey has some initial teething problems (the PFY intercepting the site's DNS lookup and pointing it at his web server with a "Currently Overloaded" message) I point a website copier at the real server.

Sure enough, the whole thing is a set of rubbish web pages with a pathetically simplistic analysis engine in the backend which churns out "complementary match groups" at a click of a button from the admin page.

An admin page which is accessed by appending "/admin" to the questionnaire URL, as it happens.

...that afternoon...

"..I mean what does this even MEAN!?" the Boss snaps harshly as he tries to fill in his online form.

"What does what mean?" I ask.

"If I could be any kind of flower, I'd be... a potato" the Boss reads "And the rating goes from Agree to Strongly Agree - but there's NO DISAGREE!"

"Perhaps it's using meta information?" I suggest.

"What?"

"Maybe it's not the question that they're testing you with - maybe it's the amount of time you take to answer the question."

"So a long time would be bad?"

"How long have you been looking at it?"

"I don't know - I refreshed the page a couple of times in case the Disagree was missing."

"In that case choose Strongly Agree."

"Why?"

"Well they probably think you're a vegetable if it's taken you that long to answer a simple question so you may as well get a rating for honesty."

>clicky<

"I am frequently upset by questions I can't answer that might highlight my lack of competence Agree to Strongly agree - but STILL no disagree."

"Strongly agree," I suggest.

"WHAT!?"

"So you're saying you're not upset by this? You sound upset."

"It's this stupid questionnaire!" >clicky< "I often blame technology for my own shortcomings. IT'S ONLY GOT STRONGLY AGREE!"

"Then click it," I say helpfully.

Rerouting the Boss' desktop to the PFY's server for the questionnaire has really paid off... While 99.9 per cent of the company are answering questions about whether they think it's better to be late to a meeting than ill-prepared the Boss is tripping the far reaches of the PFY's vodka fuelled imagination.

"As a child I found I preferred to do number twos with the toilet door open?!"

"What're the options?" I ask.

"Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree," the Boss Mumbles. >clicky<

"And... you're clicking on Strongly Disagree then?" I ask innocently, with just the faintest whiff of disbelief.

And here's a free pointer about hypnotherapy - if you're going to record your sessions because you're scared that the hypnotist is going to make you take a dump in your drawer every time someone says "cauliflower" you should be extra careful not to synchronise the recording to iTunes on your desktop where some mildly bored administrator might find it while trolling for pirated music...

"You find you are easily distracted from work by fantasies of sexual encounters with underlings? Is that something they'd even ask?"

"I'm not sure - but then you're the one who mentioned being a team player. What are the?"

"It's just got strongly agree."

"Well, click it."

"I don't know about this," the Boss says uneasily. "It just doesn't seem right."

"If it makes any difference I found some of the questions difficult myself. Besides it's anonymous. And the questions aren't viewed in isolation. And it's not like they're going to email the question and answers out to everyone"

...one hour later...

If only any of those statements had been true we might still have a Boss now - and not someone who resigned shortly after being called to the Director's office. And to be fair, once people read their email we could be fairly certain that we'd identified that the Boss's personality type wouldn't fit into any group.

So it was a little bit useful after all.

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