Sometimes, bosses and clients only exist to find something wrong and correct it. If you’re dealing with a particularly critical person, writer Oliver Burkeman suggests adding in an intentional flaw to distract them.
Photo by Rich Moore.
The idea is that when the client looks over your work, they will find the obvious mistake and leave the rest of the work alone feeling satisfied with having made some kind of input. The name comes from one graphic designer who would leave a glimpse of his own hairy arm at the edge of an ad he presented to a client:
An American business consultant, Lawrence San, tells the following story about a colleague he calls Joe, who worked as a graphic designer in the days before computers. One of Joe’s clients was forever ruining projects by insisting on stupid changes. Then something odd started happening: each time the client was presented with a newly photographed layout, he’d encounter the image of Joe’s own arm at one edge of the frame, partly obscuring the ad. “The guy would look at it,” Joe recalled, “and he’d say, ‘What the hell is that hairy arm doing in there?’” Joe would apologise for the slip-up. And then, “as he was stalking self-righteously away”, Joe said, “I’d call after him: ‘When I remove the arm, can we go into production?’ And he’d call over his shoulder, ‘Yes, but get that arm out of there first!’ Then I’d hear him muttering, ‘These people! You’ve got to watch them like a hawk.’”
That arm, of course, was no error: it was introduced so the client could object, and feel he was making his mark — and justifying his salary — while leaving the ad untouched.
Of course, this technique only works on bosses who are notorious for finding flaws where there are none. If you’re dealing with a reasonable client, distracting them with obvious problems can potentially set both yourself and them up for failure if they don’t catch real issues. Use the technique carefully and sparingly.