Tom Limoncelli, (Limoncelli n.d.)




An iMac at work broke and AppleCare gave us the choice of bringing it to one of three places in the local area, or the local AppleStore. Since one of those choices was the CompUSA around the block from us, my co-worker brought it there. And waited. And waited. And was told they were waiting for the part. We called the Apple store who said that they could do most repairs in 24 hours. The question was, “How do we get it back?”

If you’ve ever been to a CompUSA on the east-coast, you’ll soon realize that they are PC-centric and the Macs are nearly non-existent. We only brought it there because it was so close and, gosh, wouldn’t Apple have some way to certify that a CompUSA has qualified repair people and a good stash of spares before it would list that particular location? I mean, this is Apple, right? The best quality around? Wouldn’t that quality extend to their partners?

So my co-worker went to the CompUSA and asked if the repair was done. The guy went to the back room, then came out. “Nope.”

“In that case, I want it back.”

The repair person got very defensive. “Why do you want it back? It’s not working! What’s wrong?”

My co-worker, in a shining moment of brilliance realized that any kind of full disclosure would only result in an unproductive battle over the iMac that he could easily lose: possession is 9/10th of the law.

If he answers, “It’s taking too long” he’d have to defend the assertion against a barrage of, “But we promise it will be only one more day” and other excuses.

If he answers, “I’m taking it to your competitor” then he’d have to suffer through someone defending his company’s honor (and profits) to defeat the request.

Being too honest wouldn’t help either. Saying “You’re incompetent and I want to take it somewhere that isn’t” wouldn’t help the situation. There’s no cheese down that hole.

Then he came up with the perfect answer: He shrugged his shoulders and said, “My boss wants it back.”

It’s the perfect answer. You can’t argue with it.

It can be said that the most effective communication is that that speaks in the audience’s terms. His answer said, “I’m a lacky just like you. Your boss is a jerk and gives you shit jobs to do, and I my boss is a jerk and gives me shit jobs. I’m just like you. Please, in the brotherhood of underpaid-lackeys-with-mean-bosses, just give it to me.”

It harkening back to mommy and daddy leaving you speechless as a child being told “you can’t have that candy because I said so” it disarms him. It turns the biggest repair shop bully into a crying, defenseless child.

It ends the argument because it says, “You can’t argue with me, I’m the messenger.”

The name for this technique is “playing dumb.” It is a technique that we geeks often forget. We geeks are smart. We get paid for being smart. We get paid for having all the answers. Someone once told me, “My value to the company is to be the guy that knows everything.” That’s us. We’re the smart people. It’s difficult to not give a well-reasoned answer even when it won’t work.

“My boss said so.” Short. Simple. It works.

The important thing is that we play dumb. You have to be pretty smart to do that.


Limoncelli, Tom. n.d. “The Right Answer.” Accessed February 21, 2022.