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Feb 26th, 2024 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

The Bozo Explosion Lives On

To the day a dozen years ago, Silicon Valley legend Guy Kawasaki published a blog post lamenting the all-too-common phenomenon of what he called the “bozo explosion.” A company experiences a bozo explosion when a formerly brilliant team, consisting of A-players, makes the strategic mistake of hiring their first B-player (often in the name of growth… need those warm bums in seats!) and lets those B-players hire their own people.

The problem with B-players is not that they are “less than” A-players; the issue is that B-players, usually driven by the deadly combination of fear and ego, start hiring C-players. C-players hire D-players, and so on until you reach the end of the alphabet (and your company has turned into mediocrity at best).

Multiple times in my career, I have had the fortune to be in the presence of insanely high-achieving and functioning teams - in the early 2000s at eBay and in the late 2000s at Mozilla (and, I would argue, every time I worked on my own companies). I have also seen the bozo explosion take hold at places big and small. It is real.

But here is where I tend to see the world a little differently than the original concept (which predates Guy and his blog post): I don’t believe in alphabetizing people. I have seen people of all ilks deliver absolutely outstanding results regardless of whether they are considered an A-player. In other words, anyone has the potential to be an amazing contributor.

It is on us to create the environment to allow people to become the very best version of themselves. Start by giving people an A – and allow them to live up to it. Which is pretty much the opposite of the prevailing strategy of “proof me you are worth it.” Build an environment of trust – nothing creates high-performing teams more than trust (see Google’s seminal work on psychological safety).

The Bozo explosion is real and not inevitable.

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