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Microsoft's Guide to Humor (microsoft.com)
252 points by jakarta on Apr 29, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 75 comments



This reminds me of E. B. White's quote:

"Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind."

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/E._B._White

It's also reminiscent of Louis Armstrong's

"Man, if you gotta ask you'll never know"

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Louis_Armstrong

Is it really possible to develop a sense of humour by reading a list of bullet points, action plans and self-help advice? I'm not really convinced that this isn't a really brilliant, very subtle joke on a completely higher level.

I can't decide whether this is funnier if posted by someone in earnest, or if posted in total seriousness. I think that's the joke.


This may be a little bit convoluted of an idea but when i was much younger I made a concerted effort to be "funnier". I watched stand up commedians on tv and analyzed why some jokes worked and some didn't. I paid attention to my friends jokes and took mental notes. All in all it worked out, i'm no robbin williams, but I make people around me laugh (in a good way) fairly frequently.

So structured learning of "un-learnable" fields can pay off, though your intent, desire, and actions all have to be aligned. Microsofts attempts to introduce humor to the workplace could legitimately be successful if they really really followed through, sponsoring weekly sitcom watching parties, making jokes in email signatures the internal norm, etc.

What makes this document so sad, is the perception that feelings and enjoyment can be delegated to a memo.


I did the same thing. I found that a frequent key component of humor is unexpected word choice, which synergized well with my extensive vernacular.

Can you summarize some of the lessons you learned?


It can never hurt to try out your material on the internet. i'm currently floating at the top of the page with an office one-liner. Sometimes it pays to stick to the classics ^_^


In order to develop a base from which to work, begin by alluding to a common cultural references, eg. commercials.


"I watched stand up commedians on tv and analyzed why some jokes worked and some didn't."

That's what they do, after all. As much as people protest that you can't dissect a joke, comedians and humor writers pull on gloves and end up elbow-deep in the things to improve their craft.


More information about how you structured your learning of this would be interesting to me, should you chose to disclose it.


"I'm not really convinced that this isn't a really brilliant, very subtle joke on a completely higher level."

It probably started out that way.


>Is it really possible to develop a sense of humour by reading a list of bullet points, action plans and self-help advice?

To some extent, of course. When you know enough about how frogs work, you can make a new frog. I don't think humour is any different to writing or music in this case. In particular,

>There are some basic humor tactics. Use exaggeration, use reversal, be brief. Cut out unnecessary words.

This is good advice. Someone who paid attention to it could improve their ability to tell jokes. It's neither necessary nor sufficient, but it's a start.


It's more fun to cut out necessary words.


It's more to out words.


what she words


You don't have to decide. Earnestness and seriousness are synonyms.


Bleurgh. I rewrote that sentence a few times and ended up posting a mish-mash. s/earnest/jest/ :o)


> "Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind."

Sometimes the frog dies in amusing ways. See http://xkcdexplained.com/


Hehe, those are pretty good, but xkcd makes too much sense. The king of this particular block is Marmaduke Explained.

http://marmadukeexplained.blogspot.com/

http://www.29-95.com/time-suck/comic-strip/marmaduke-explain...


There's a short story by Asimov where the cause of humour is explained and then disappears forever. Or at least that's how I remember it (proving hard to Google).

EDIT: I remembered this a little incorrectly. The story is called "Jokester", from the book Earth Is Room Enough. Someone has it in a Word document online (on the first page of hits).


Wasn't the cause of humor... oh wait, I was going to spoil the story. Here's a review (with spoilers): http://www.helium.com/items/1714669-jokester-by-isaac-asimov


"Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind." http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/E._B._White

Odd: I just came across a similar analogy in Cory Doctorow's "Eastern Standard Tribe":

"The difference between reading a story and studying a story is the difference between living the story and killing the story and looking at its guts."


Doesn't look like they have a policy on "that's what she said"


Level 5: Super Expert

Can recognize the humor in Microsoft publishing strict guidelines documenting requirements for various "proficiency" levels in humor. Microsoft spent money doing this. Money that came ultimately from Windows license revenue. Can barely hold back tears at the thought of this.


Learning From Bad Situations

All of us will find ourselves in bad situations from time to time. Good intentions gone bad. Impossible tasks and goals. Hopeless projects. Even though you probably can’t perform well, the key is to at least take away some lessons and insights. Was there anything ironic, odd, or downright funny in all of this?

Trapped on the thirty-second floor of Microsoft Documentation Complex 27B/6, Will Burnham shuddered, silently, and wept.


Reminds me of Microserfs.


"Since you are reading this because you or others don't think you are good at using humor, the best technique is to follow the lead of others."


> Can see humor in almost everything

I must be an expert because this page is hilarious.

Particularly the fact that they suggest learning to shoot skeet.


At first I thought this was a joke. But it's dead serious.


This has to be a joke.


Nope, these are actual guidelines Microsoft uses to make hiring, promotion, and compensation decisions. city41's comment is 100% accurate about how these things are used.

The entire list of 'competencies' is here: http://www.microsoft.com/education/competencies/allcompetenc...

It probably started as your typical big-company CYA in case someone tries to sue them for HR-related stuff and grew into this monster as some middle manager began empire-building.

There's even a wheel, in case you felt like making a poster: (pdf) http://download.microsoft.com/download/3/4/7/3477e49d-315d-4...


These linked ones are the education ones. They are completely different in content from the ones used in in the product team roles.


It's terrifying, but I agree. This has to be real... I want it to be a joke, because it'd be pretty frickin' funny if it were, but it can't be.

I was about to post the same discovery, but you beat me to it. Bah! And +1!


For some reason, humor and compassion are the only competencies that don't appear on the wheel. Also, does anyone else find it troubling that "results" make up such a thin sliver of the wheel o' competency?


> Nope, these are actual guidelines Microsoft uses to make hiring, promotion, and compensation decisions. city41's comment is 100% accurate about how these things are used.

So... it's edgy humor in the form of a terrifying practical joke? Maybe Andy Kaufman didn't die after all.


You need to think like a large-company HR director. Every employee must have an appropriate rank to justify his or her salary, and a list of qualifications to justify the rank, so that nobody can say “hey, this guy across the hall is doing exactly the same work as me, but I’m paid less, that’s not fair”.

All other things being equal, wouldn’t you rather have a manager or co-worker with a good sense of humor than one without? Therefore, don’t employees with good senses of humor deserve to be paid more than the humorless ones? If Microsoft doesn’t recognize and reward how employee-led humor adds value to their stakeholders, then all the employees with good senses of humor will bolt the company, attracted by the free clown suits that Google offers.


That's what she said.


And that is the joke itself, isn't it? The fun is in the fact that one can't tell whether it is meant to be serious or not.


Rule #28941: When someone cracks a joke say "ha-ha-ha" out loud.


If online, post the letters L, O and L (in that order) to indicate laughter in real life. Optionally the letters X and D may be used to form a so called "emoticon", for added effect.


If (or perhaps when) making a joke yourself, you can also use a (semi-)colon and o or dash and a closing parenthesis at the end of your sentence as a hint to the recipient who may otherwise--in the absence of body language or tone of spoken words--not notice that your utterance was meant to be humorous.

However, in some circles this may be frowned up on as an insult on the readers intelligence.


Wow, I thought this would be ridiculous, but it's actually a pretty sharp analysis of how to effectively use humor in the workplace.


So did you find the information useful? [Yes] [No]


All I can think of right now is the Chinese room thought problem for artificial intelligence.

Even if you make people laugh following these guidelines to the letter, would you have a sense of humor?


From the article: "Learning From Bad Things That Happen

Bad things happen to everyone, sometimes because of what we do and sometimes with help from us. We all have bad bosses, bad staffs, impossible and hopeless situations, impossible tasks, and unintended consequences. Aside from the trouble these bad things cause for you, the key is how can you learn from each of them.

Learning From Bad Situations

All of us will find ourselves in bad situations from time to time. Good intentions gone bad. Impossible tasks and goals. Hopeless projects. Even though you probably can’t perform well, the key is to at least take away some lessons and insights. Was there anything ironic, odd, or downright funny in all of this?"

Hmm, the Internet Explorer team wrote this? At least they've proven their "Level 1: Basic" proficiency by being able to laugh at themselves and their hopeless predicament.


Its smart. They know that the best executives will be able to use humor, anger, and a spectrum of human emotions, to further their goals.


Is this their 'Intranet' accidentally published on the Web? I don't understand what is the purpose of it being up there.


It's similar. They use the same proficiency level guidelines for many different aspects when doing employee reviews. There is also a pre-established ruling on at what level of proficiency an employee of a certain level should be at for each one. So, for example, a level 62 employee should be at level 2 humor proficiency. Level 64 should be at proficiency 3, etc. Being above the expected proficiency for your level is a factor in getting a bigger bonus. You also can't get promoted until your proficiencies are at least at the next expected level.


Wow. I'm an engineer at Microsoft. I don't know what this particular site is about (from poking around, it seems to be targeted at education) but I can assure you that career paths and employee reviews at Microsoft have nothing to do with humor.

It's a weird day when you have to write such a comment :)


No, not humor. I mean that proficiency scale is used for various other more pertinent traits. I worked for Microsoft up until February.


Sriram speaks the truth. I've never worked with anyone more serious than you in my life. ;)


The way you put it, the Microsoft career path sounds like a boring RPG.


Pretty much, and leveling up is a bitch.


Don't get caught up in the competencies. Levels are all about scope. And the odd ones require a jump in mgmt chain signoff, so start working with your lead on them early because they ain't getting them for you at the last minute.


Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!


No joke, radio.


The funny thing is that some people think it's serious.


Level one, 'Basic,' includes: "Tries to diffuse tense situations with appropriate humor."

In a different row, level two, 'Intermediate,' includes: "Uses humor to boost morale or decrease tension."

Similarly, level one includes "Is conscientious about timing and setting for humor," and level three, 'Advanced,' includes "Realizes when and where humor will backfire, and withholds."

If this were a real skill being assessed, that kind of redundancy would be a problem. In fact, it probably wouldn't be there at all, because the person writing it would sense that something was a level-one trait or a level-three trait. But when you start down the path of bullshit like this, you find yourself in the land of arbitrariness, and pretty soon you're just desperate for some more words to fill up the boxes.

And it is, indeed, bullshit. A good sense of humor is important in the workplace, as it is everywhere, but it's not something that can be assessed in some abstract way like this, separate from the person's other qualities.


This is depressing. How can you work for Microsoft, see that, and not be depressed? Whatever you think of the company's technology over the years, you have to wonder how old timers feel about starting a career at a software company and ending it at a company that exists solely as charity for office workers.


I can't believe I'm the first to post this nugget:

"In a seemingly serious situation, what nuggets of humor or irony can I find?"


The author of that page is obviously a "Level 4: Expert" in humor.


This is really funny! The one who wrote this has to have an incredible "expert level" sense of humour!


This is well and good for those zany jokesters at Microsoft, but what are we to do?


Strategic Agility and Innovation Management - http://www.microsoft.com/education/competencies/comp_strateg...

Really, Microsoft...


> Do I ever encourage a near party atmosphere because of my comfort with using humor?

How many points do I get for encouraging near party atmospheres because of my comfort with using alcohol?


Hey boss, I learned 50 jokes last year. Will I have my pay rise?


Humor in the workplace is mostly a way to assert dominance.


Level 5: You cracked the humor algorithm and developed a small humor library that now ships with the operating system.


This library thinks Franz Kafka and Charlie Chaplain were the funniest people ever, particularly as epitomized in The Trial and Modern Times, respectively.


I'm surprised they haven't used a PowerPoint presentation.


Humor: something Microsoft could stand to learn a bit of.


Guide itself is more funny than the subject.


I can't believe this is real. Just wow.


I don't get it.


Is this a joke?


That's what she said.


Say "Aidsfart" four times fast. Now say it backwards. Now stick out your tongue.


^ I wish I could delete this. I realize the comment sounds very tasteless out of context.

I was ripping on the sterility and general uselessness of corporate so-called "humor" by describing a behavior that would be offensive and bizarre in normal interaction, but hilarious and awesome within a corporate context (because of its offensiveness and, therefore, its departure from what is expected).




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