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Rule #1: Don’t Get Caught On Camera

I was framed.

I started my new job about 7 months ago. I typically prefer to keep a low profile when I start a new job. I do lots of listening. Lots of asking questions, but try to not to draw too much attention to myself.

So, no one suspected it was me. Not a single person. I was SO discreet.

My coworker Brad has a bird on his desk.

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The top part spins around. Brad will idly spin it while he’s on phone calls. My boss, the only one who was in on it, suggested that the team had a history of hiding Brad’s bird. He suggested I take it on one of my trips (Five Percent Travel) and take pictures of it in some random place.

I snuck it out of the office and took it to Richmond, VA. Here it is on the back of a really big metal chicken.

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Don’t see it? Here’s a closeup.

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I’d send the pictures to my boss and he’d email them to the team. It was a good plan and it was kind of fun. The key, of course was I never mentioned Brad’s bird to anyone. Not even when it was right under his nose.

In the area between our cubes is a potted plant. I put the bird in the plant and it took him over a week to find it.

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The problem was I overreached. I thought,

Where can I put it that he can see it, but have trouble getting it?

The answer was the top of a 10 foot wall in our office area. The ceiling sloped from about 8 feet to 20 feet high. The offices had traditional walls.

Perfect.

I got my boss to leave a ladder in his office. I came in early and Brad’s bird suddenly had a bird’s eye view of the entire office. I was kind of surprised that Brad didn’t get the bird down. Brad is also a Project Manager. Our whole job is to identify problems and solve them. I thought the “bird on a wall” would have been fairly easy to fix. But, for some reason Brad left the bird there for nearly two weeks. Finally, I climbed back up on the ladder early one morning and rescued the bird.

I came back from my latest trip (This Never Happened To James Bond) and was sitting at my desk going through emails. There was a tap on my shoulder. It was one of our uniformed security guards and he was standing next to my boss.

Rodney, I need to let you know that we have security footage of you violating company policy. It’s pretty serious.

I actually managed to imagine a thing or two that might have triggered this visit. They weren’t real, but my imagine was running overtime at this point. My concern apparently showed pretty clearly on my face.

Did I mention that we share a cube farm with the security team? Yeah, none of them knew I was the bird napper either. But, they knew something I didn’t. They new the location of the security camera’s and had access to the tapes.

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This wouldn’t have been too bad if my boss wasn’t ALSO a prankster. After he and the security guard. . and several other PM’s got done laughing he handed me a shirt.

RULES OF THE OFFICE PRANKSTER

Rule number one

Don’t get caught on camera!

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Like I said, I was framed.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

An Uncomfortable Conversation About Race

I write an occasional column for our local Pleasant Grove, UT paper, the Timpanogos Times. Actually, I write in every edition, but it only comes out 4 times per year, so it’s occasional. The following is a reprint of my most recent column.

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This is reprinted from the October 8, 2014 edition of the Timpanogos Times.
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Bliss Bits
An Uncomfortable Conversation About Race
Rodney Bliss

There was a shooting in Saratoga Springs, UT in September. Darius Hunt, a young black man was shot by police while he was carrying a ceremonial samurai sword. The case has garnered national attention. The investigation is ongoing.

There were two other shooting the same week. Men fleeing from the police who actually shot at the cops. One of the biggest differences in the stories is the other two men were white.

The death of Darius Hunt scares me.

I have two sons who are black. They are not yet teenagers. They don’t understand how the color of their skin will cause some people to treat them differently. Before too long I will have to have what Pleasant Grove, UT resident and former state legislator Holly Richardson, who also has black sons calls “The Talk.” Not a talk about sex. A talk about how young black men have to behave differently than their peers when interacting with the police.

A friend of mine posted a question for me “What is it like to be black in America?” to a private discussion group. She shared the results with me. One writer’s account stuck with me.

To be a Black man in America. I got pulled over last night by the police. My tail lights were out. I didn’t know.
As the white officer approached I followed some black-male-surviving-a-police-encounter rules I’ve learned to live by.
1] Keep BOTH HANDS visible and on the steering wheel.
2] Answer when addressed.
3] Be polite, and respectful, but firm & straightforward.
4] When asked for licence tell, without moving hands, “Its in wallet in pants pocket.” Wait until told to reach for it.
5] Same for proof of insurance: “It’s in glove box.” Indicate with nod of head.
6] Move to reach for it when told only.
At this point the officer usually goes to squad car to run plates & licence.
At this point survival for me has been achieved.
Tell him that.

It would be nice to think that we don’t have a race issue in our state, or our city. My wife and I enjoy raising a multiracial family here. (We also have white children and Asian children.) A few years ago we moved from one part of Pleasant Grove, down by the Linden WalMart to the east end of Center Street. It meant our children moved elementary schools. We planned our move so that it happened during the summer.

At the start of the next school year, my daughter’s 6th grade class announced they would take nominations for a class representative to the student council. My 11 year old was very excited to tell me that she intended to try to become her class representative.

“That’s great, honey.” I was happy that my daughter was willing to try new things. I was also worried about her being disappointed. She was one of the top three vote getters in the first round. She prepared a speech for the final day of voting. Coming home she couldn’t wait to tell me about it.

Daddy, guess what?

What?

I WON!

As a parent I was relieved that my kids attended a school where the new girl who was black could be elected by her peers.

In fact, Utah in general is known as a very racially tolerant state. We moved here several years ago from the Seattle area. There was a certain amount of apprehension, moving our multi-racial family from Seattle, a city known for its diversity, to Utah, a state known for being very conservative, very white and very Mormon.

And yet, when we arrived, it turned out our neighbor was of Asian descent. We went to church with Tongans and Samoans. A Spanish branch of the Mormon church met in the same building we met in. True there were not a lot of black people, but there were certainly a lot of people of color.

Given those positive experiences, it’s easy to think that we don’t have to worry about race in Pleasant Grove. I haven’t seen it. Many of the people in my neighborhood haven’t seen racism in our community.

However, the death of Darius Hunt reminds us that race still plays a role in Utah. We do not know if race was a factor in his death. We certainly know that race has been a factor in the discussions in the days since his death. In addition to Holly Richardson’s stories of how her adult black children are treated differently by police than her white children, I have heard from other friends in Utah who are black.

Rodney, did you think it didn’t exist? Did you think I was making it up? Every day. Every day I’m reminded that I’m black in a state that is mostly white.

Here’s why Darius’ death, in addition to being tragic, scares me. As you can see from the picture at the top of this column, I’m white. My wife is white. How do I teach my children? How do I teach my boys who are black to be confident, strong men, but to not do anything during an interaction with the police that might be considered threatening? How do I prepare them to be followed around a store by employees simply because their skin is a different color? How do I teach them to recognize and respond appropriately when they are subjected to the subtle racism that my friends tell me they deal with every day?

A friend who is white suggest that I am blowing it out of proportion, that if they are doing nothing wrong, they will have nothing to fear.

Let me ask you a question. I have five sons, one white, two Asian and two black. Suppose my white son, who is a 6’2″, 14 year old rugby player gets caught doing doughnuts in the school parking lot in a couple years. What do you think the response will be from people in general and from law enforcement?

Most likely they will tell him to knock it off and go home.

Now, picture the same scenario with one of my sons who is black, and will most likely be short of 6′. What do you think people’s reaction would be if one of them were doing doughnuts late at night? Do you think they’d tell him to knock it off and go home?

My friends who are black know exactly what would happen, because they’ve been detained for doing far less.

Yes, the death of Darius Hunt scares me a lot. It reminds me of just how much I need to teach my children, and how il-prepared I feel for that.

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Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Why Don’t You Tell Me How You Really Feel?

Rodney, don’t stand behind the podium. You ruined the entire punchline!

You kept twirling your ring. It was distracting!

You would be more effective if you paused longer between each character speaking.

You leaned on the podium too much. It made you appear disinterested.

You didn’t put enough movement into it. If you are going to fling the rabbit, really FLING it. You came across as kind of weak.

These are just a few of the comments I’ve heard as feedback to speeches I’ve made in the past. Sounds a little harsh doesn’t it? Funny thing, these are the good comments. I’ll share some of the really bad ones at the end.

Today, I want to talk about giving feedback. It might be to a direct report, a manager, or even a child or a spouse. I guess I’ve never really thought of it as something that is hard to do. Rather, I never thought of it as something you have to practice.

Harry Truman is credited with saying,

If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.

In many ways, he could have been talking about business. One of the burdens of management (and it really is a burden) is the requirement that you give feedback to people who work for you. I once had to coach a member of my team who had screwed up. (He Deserved To Be Fired.) He had screwed up so badly that my boss wanted me to fire him. I wanted to try a coaching route first. It was an awkward meeting.

You really left your teammates with a mess to clean up.

Yeah, I feel bad about that.

Why didn’t you call? Why didn’t you offer to come back off your trip and help? Why didn’t you say anything for the past two weeks?

Frankly, I was afraid I was going to get fired.

Well, hiding isn’t going to help.

I had what VitalSmarts calls a crucial conversation. The key part of the conversation was that I was straightforward and direct in exactly my team member had done wrong. I went on to explain what I wanted him to do to correct it.

I used the Truman quote about the dog, because in that meeting, I wasn’t his friend. I also wasn’t his enemy. I was his boss. And It was my responsibility to give clear and unambiguous feedback about exactly where he had screwed up and what he needed to do to improve. When he left that meeting, he knew exactly where he stood and what he needed to do to keep his job, and improve. And interestingly, he later thanked me for giving him direction. No one had ever taken the time to actually coach him on how to better do his job.

Now imagine that instead of a straightforward unambiguous discussion, our conversation had gone like this.

Yeah, that was a problem.

Yeah. . .

Bet you feel bad about it, huh?

Oh yeah. I feel awful.

Yeah, me too. Let’s try to not do that in the future.

Sure

By sympathizing with him and minimizing, I’ve actually done him a disservice. He doesn’t understand where he stands. He doesn’t know how to improve. He just knows “this was bad. Don’t do this again.”

As a manager, you are very much in the role of coach. And like a coach, you need to provide the training and the direction in a clear manner, so that people know where they went wrong an dhow to improve.

Imagine your favorite sports team had the #1 draft pick in the upcoming draft. They then draft the best college player. Now, this player shows up to his first day of practice and the coach says,

You’re a great athlete. You don’t have to participate in any of the drills or practices. Just show up to the games and we’ll be good.

What would happen? Of course, the athlete would not succeed. In fact, he would quickly become the worst player on the field. Now, suppose that on his first day of practice the coach says,

We’re excited you’re here. Your good, but we are going to make you better. I think you can improve on your run time. Your conditioning needs a lot work before the season starts. Here’s a playbook, memorize it, don’t lose it. If you want to be the best pro player instead of just the best college player, I expect you to be the first one here and the last one to leave. You’re going to work harder than you ever have in your entire life. But, we are going to teach you how to be a pro athlete.

Obviously, the player is going to be set up for success. Business is no different. You cannot expect your team to just “know” what you want. You need to give them direct and clear feedback, both when they are doing well and when they are screwing up.

I mentioned at the beginning that these were some of the best comments. The worst?

Nice job.

Outstanding.

Can’t think of a thing to suggest to you.

Those comments aren’t bad, of course, but they in no way help me grow. I’ll be speaking at my Toastmaster Club today. Hopefully, I get an evaluator who will tell me where I can improve rather than simply complimenting me on my delivery.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

This Never Happened to James Bond

People at the airport
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Breakfast in London, lunch in Paris, dinner in New York. The movies make travel look effortless and occasionally glamorous. James Bond jets all over the world without a thought. I’m always amazed when his travel becomes the least complicated part of his adventure. My unplanned overnight stay in Dallas makes me question the believability of his travel.

After 10 days in Louisville, KY getting our call center ready to open, I was finally headed home last Friday. I’ve travelled a lot. (Five Percent Travel) Normally, I carry on all my luggage. It’s easier, it’s faster and it’s cheaper. Even for a a ten day trip, I can pack everything into a couple of carry on bags.

Friday I had to check a bag. I went to see the Louisville Slugger museum while I was in Kentucky. (That’s a Really Big Bat.) I purchased some souvenir bats. The airlines don’t allow you to take a bat of any size on a plane. I think this is a good rule. It does make me wonder how James Bond gets his cool weapons through security, but that’s another story.

I’ve been working the past week and a half with Jeremy, our desktop engineer from Richmond. He’s been in Louisville for a month and he flew home on Friday also. Jeremy believes in checking all his luggage. “This is all I travel with,” as he held up a Steelers jacket. He thought I was a little nuts to travel with even a computer bag.

Since I was going to check a bag anyway, I put as much into my checked bag as I could. Not only clothes, but toiletries, the bats, of course, also all the power cords for my laptop, iPad and cell phone. I figured I could manage the power usage on them enough to get me home.

I normal fly out late on Friday so that I can work most of the day. My flight from Louisville was scheduled to leave at 6:55 PM. I had a thirty minute layover in Dallas. I was scheduled to arrive at the Salt Lake airport just before midnight. It would be a long day.

And it didn’t go as expected. Something about some tires loaded as cargo might have made us too heavy. I’m a big fan of not crashing. And if the airline decides that we need to delay to avoid crashing, it’s not something I complain about. I went to sleep pretty much as soon as I got on the plane. I kept waking up over the next hour and a half as the flight attendants and the captain kept us updated on why we were not yet flying. Finally, they sort of gave up. They told us that we were all going to miss our connecting flights. They offered to put us in a hotel in either Louisville or in Dallas. Of course, they would rebook our flights.

My thought was that Dallas was half way home to Salt Lake. I might as well spend an uncomfortable night in Texas as in Kentucky. Access to our checked bags with clothes, toiletries and power cords, was absolutely out of the question. About a third of the passengers decided they’d spend another night in Kentucky. The benefit was that for the first time in a long time, the center seat was empty on our flight. Looking for small benefits.

It was not lost on us that Dallas is a city with confirmed cases of Ebola. The folks in my row were experienced travelers and we understood the risk was very low. But, the risk in Dallas was slightly higher than the risk in Salt Lake City, or Louisville, or pretty much anywhere else.

At the Dallas airport they offered us a $12 voucher for dinner, a $7 voucher for breakfast and a voucher for the Super 8 motel. . .who’s shuttle will be by in an hour to pick you up.

As we landed I turned my phone on and in addition to a voicemail letting me know one of my kids had emergency surgery, I had a voicemail from American Airlines that I was automatically rebooked on a Saturday morning flight leaving at 9:55. All the restaurants in the Dallas airport were closed by the time we landed. So, the four of us who were getting a forced one night vacation piled into a slightly older minivan with a motel sticker plastered to it and headed for the Super 8.

The hotel was as lovely as you would imagine. But, it had a bed and a TV. And that was really all we needed. And it had a shuttle back to the airport at 7:00 AM. Sure, I didn’t have to be there until nearly ten, but I figured I’d use the unused meal vouchers from the night before and have a nice breakfast.

Plane Reflecting rising sun
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My 9:55 AM flight ended up being delayed. This time no one even knew why. The captain came on the PA as we were sitting at the gate.

This is your captain speaking, we are ready to push back from the gate. We are waiting on the ground crew to tell us what the delay is about. We are ready to go. As we find out more information I’ll keep you updated.

Never did figure it out. At least they didn’t tell us why. We finally pushed back twenty-five minutes late.

Leaving Dallas as 10:20 gets me into Salt Lake around 12:05 PM, about twelve hours later than my original arrival time and about twenty four hours after starting my trip on Friday. I thought, “I’ve never seen this in a James Bond movie.” It doesn’t take an international man of intrigue nearly 24 hours to move 2000 miles across a single country. But, then I realized in at least one aspect, my trip did mirror life on the silver screen. I went to TGI Fridays for breakfast. Traveling by myself I did what I normally do and sat at the bar.

Breakfast Bar
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I ordered orange juice and a ham and bacon omelet. It was excellent. However, in the hour I sat and ate my eggs and bacon, I watched at least a half dozen guys order everything from Bloody Marys, to beer to hard drinks. Who drinks a vodka and orange juice Screwdriver for breakfast?

International spies, that’s who.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children, one and soon to be two one grandchildren.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Tom Clancy Was A Hack

Yes, I know he’s dead. . .and I’m still mad at him.

I wasn’t always mad at him. In fact, I was a huge Tom Clancy fan. I was so much a fan that I couldn’t wait for the next book in the Jack Ryan franchise. I would go out and buy the hardback versions. When they first came out. I was dropping $25 dollars a copy. And I really enjoyed them. I had

The Hunt for Red October
Red Storm Rising
Patriot Games
The Cardinal of the Kremlin
Clear and Present Danger
The Sum of All Fears
Without Remorse
Debt of Honor

And then I ran into Tom Clancy’s Op Center. And that book made me disgusted. So much so that I gave away my Tom Clancy library and I vowed never to buy another Tom Clancy novel.

There were hints early on that something wasn’t right with Clancy’s career. I dismissed it as rumor or sour grapes. But, the information I was getting was from some very reliable sources. My friend Rich operated a computer bulletin board system in the Maryland area. Clancy was an insurance salesman in the Baltimore, MD area while he was writing his submarine thriller, The Hunt For Red October.

The story is that he sold a homeowners policy to a guy. The guy’s house ended up burning down. At that point it was discovered that Clancy wrote the policy wrong. The guy ended up getting twice what his house was worth. But, it’s no crime to be bad at selling insurance. It’s not proof that he did anything wrong. Is it?

Turns out the guy who’s house burned down worked in the Pentagon. Not only did he work in the Pentagon, he worked in the submarine warfare division. He knew a whole bunch of classified information about our subs and the Soviet subs. But, there’s not proof that he did anything wrong. Is there?

I went to college with a guy who’s dad also worked in the submarine warfare division. My friend Lex asked his dad about submarine warfare tactics.

Lex, you know I cannot talk about ANY of that information. However, if you would like to ask me about the material in the FICTIONAL book by Tom Clancy, I think it will answer most of your questions.

There was no proof that the burnt house guy sold Clancy insider information about submarine warfare in exchange for a “bad” homeowner policy, but the story in the BBS community was that he lost his Top Secret clearance over the possibility.

But, all of that could have been coincidence. I dismissed the suggestions from my BBS friend and I kept on reading Clancy’s books.

I’ve been a writer for a long time. At one point early in my career, I had an agent named Barbara Bova. Barbara was a much better agent than I was a writer, but she gave me encouragement when I really needed it early in my writing career. I once went to visit her and her writer husband in Naples, FL. The discussion turned to Tom Clancy.

Well, you can defend him if you want, Rodney, but the rumor is that he has ghost writers create his books. He not only gives them zero recognition, he is a prima donna to work with.

But, still that was rumor. It wasn’t enough to make me put down his books.

And then Tom Clancy’s Op Center came out.

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(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

I bought it. Of course, I bought it. It was by Tom Clancy. Or, at least I thought it was. As I looked at it closely, I realized that the reason Tom Clancy’s name was two inches tall on the cover was not because he wrote it, but because they made his name part of the title.

But, that’s okay. It was just a marketing deal right? Curiously the cover said “Created by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik.” Curious word “created.” That’s sort of like “written by” right?

No, it’s not.

Turns out Jeff Rovin wrote it. But, no one knew that at first. It was an article in USA Today that I finally started to figure it out. Tom Clancy gave an interview promoting the Op Center book. In the interview he acknowledged that he didn’t write a word in the book. He led us all to believe it was Pieczenik who wrote it and that he and Pieczenik had collaborated and “created” the story which Pieczenik went on to write.

At this point I was done. I have friends who are authors. Some more famous than others. But, in every case, I know that they wrote every word in their books. If I’m going to be dropping $10-$25 for a book, I’m going to make sure the money is going to an author who I knew actually did the work.

Even Clancy’s lie about the actual author of Op Center was a lie. It wasn’t until 7 years later in 2002 that Clancy admitted it was Rovin who wrote it.

Why point this out? Why spend a few hundred words writing about an author who has been dead for over a year? for two reasons. First, Clancy’s estate continues to release books with his name on them. I guess it makes sense. He wrote as much of these current books as he wrote in many of his previous books.

But, the second and more important issue has to do with reputation. Your reputation, especially today with the advent of google searches and social media, if you lie about your credentials, you will be found out. The commandant of the Marine Corps recently was found to have falsified his credentials. He got found out.

If you lie about your credentials, you will be found out.

Don’t do it. Not an extra line on your resume. Not a lifted paragraph without giving credit. Certainly, not by putting your name in two inch tall letters on the cover of a book you didn’t write.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Guns vs Reality

We need to watch the kids while they are at your uncle’s place..

You mean because my aunt Lois has all those knick knacks?

No. I mean, yeah, but I was thinking about the guns that your uncle has in the house.

We were headed with all 13 kids to visit my uncle. He lives in a house overlooking Lake Coeur d’Alene in Norther Idaho. He and my aunt were retired. Uncle Tandy spent his time fixing go-carts for the Shiners, taking trips in his 34′ motor home and fishing on the lake. He was a former soldier, heavy equipment operator, police chief and highway patrolman. Not only did he have his own guns, he had inherited my grandparents’ guns. Both my grandfather who taught me to shoot, and my grandmother owned guns.

Uncle Tandy kept a loaded handgun in his nightstand and a loaded shotgun behind the front door. Pity the robber who attempted to rob him.

My aunt had the house full of trinkets. But, we had toddlers and pre-teens. Prime ages for sneaking into closets or rummaging under beds. Our visit was more than a little stressful. However, our kids didn’t get into anything, and my uncle told us to come back anytime. . .when they were older.

Was there a danger?

Probably.

Was it as dangerous as we thought?

Probably not.

How do I know? Because of the many trips we made to my lovely wife’s family in Idaho.

There’s a line out of the classic 1962 movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Jimmy Stewart’s character who has lived his life incorrectly being lauded as a hero for shooting the outlaw Liberty Valance, tells a group of newspapermen,

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

We convince ourselves that certain things are true and yet never bother to check them against reality. For example, in 335 BC the philosopher Aristotle wrote a set of laws on physics. One of the laws was that heavier objects fall faster. It make sense. . .sort of. And it was accepted as fact for well over a thousand years. Until the Italian scientist Galileo (1564 – 1642) did a series of experiments proving that all objects fall at the same rate. Galileo’s experiment supposedly dropped stones off the leaning tower of Pisa.

Incredibly simple experiment. So, why did it take nearly two thousand years? Because people either believed Aristotle, or more often, scientists were simply afraid to doubt 2000 years of orthodoxy.

What does this have to do with IT and computers? We have the same prejudices and preconceived ideas as other professions. For example, despite “common knowledge” Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft never said “640 K of memory should be enough for anyone.” (The computer you are reading this on probably has several thousands of times more memory than 640K.) Thomas J Watson the founder of IBM never said “the world has need of at most 5 computers.”

Some IT professionals swear by Macs. Other’s wouldn’t use anything except a Windows machine. Still others insist that Linux is the only operating system that anyone should need. Is one operating system better than another? Of course. If you want to run a program that runs exclusively on a single platform, the question is easy. Is one operating system better in every situation? Of course not.

As a consultant, or as a manager evaluating a new product, or as a person, check your biases. It’s possible that you are looking at the world through a cracked glass. My best friend told me that he’s often heard that black people are not good programmers. He’s a black programmer. My wife has heard that women don’t do well in IT. My wife was a computer trainer and consultant.

Sometimes we talk ourselves out of a solution because we are sure of something that isn’t so.

My lovely wife also has family in Idaho. Her sister and brother-in-law live on a dairy farm in South East Idaho. We love to visit there and have been there often with all 13 kids.

Did you think we should make be extra careful at your sister’s house in Idaho?

No. Why?

Well, the guns.

What do you mean?

If you remember they keep their guns in the gun cabinet in the family room.

So?

The gun cabinet doesn’t lock. . .and it’s missing the glass. And they keep some of the guns on the antlers of a deer on the wall.

Yeah, not all that secure.

And our kids didn’t get into anything at their house either.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

When Mute Fails

I cannot BELIEVE this son of a @#$%!

Bart was a support engineer at WordPerfect Corporation. Bart was a bit of a hothead. He was smart enough to press the mute button on his phone before he would rant about his customers.

Smart enough and yet not nearly smart enough. And this time it cost him.

There’s a famous saying that goes

Customers are not an interruption to our business. Customers are the reason for our business.

My career started out at WordPerfect in a call center on the phones. (Back to Where It All Began.) And now my career involves setting up call centers. We have hundreds of agents who take thousands of phone calls.

Calls centers then and now record phone calls. At one point while at WordPerfect, I was moved off the phones to work on a special project. (How I Saved The EPA. . .Don’t Tell Pete!) After the project, I was moved back to the phones in the WordPerfect Office queue.

I didn’t take it well.

I ended up on a phone call with the EPA administrator and I let my frustration boil over into the phone call. I didn’t say anything too terrible, but I was certainly bad-mouthing my company. It’s okay, though, right? I was tucked away in the corner and it was just me and the customer. . .and the tape recorder.

Rodney, can I see you in my office?

Sure, what’s up?

This is Susan from HR, and you know Sam who’s the director of support.

What’s this about?

Were you aware that we record agent calls?

Oh. . .

No, I wasn’t. I certainly was after that discussion. They decided I could keep my job. I also got a great appreciation for the fact that when you are on the company clock, you are expected to support the company policy, even if you are unhappy about your personal situation.

At my current company, we record 100% of the agent calls. We have entire teams dedicated to listening to a sampling of calls and offering agents feedback on their performance. The calls are saved in permanent storage. At first glance it might appear invasive. During my phone call all those years ago I assumed that my call was private. It was a really silly assumption. The folks from the EPA didn’t assume it was private. My boss knew it wasn’t private. And I should have known it wasn’t.

When you call into an 800 number, all of them give you the standard “Calls may be recorded. I actually called a company one time who’s message said,

For your training and quality insurance, all calls may be recorded.

I wasn’t clear how the company intended to train me as a customer.

As an employee, it’s important to always remember that you don’t just work for the company. When you are on the phone with a customer, you ARE the company. Everything you say, every decision you make, reflects back on your employer. And it’s not unreasonable that your employer expects you to be a good representative. It’s how you should be acting. . .all the time.

And that brings us back to Bart, who put his phone on mute and swore at his customer. Bart not only swore, he did it loudly enough that everyone on his team knew that he wasn’t happy with the customer. On most phone systems, there is a difference between MUTE and HOLD. If you put someone on hold you are temporarily disconnected from them. They cannot hear you because the connection has been broken. When you put someone on mute, you are still connected to them, it just turns your microphone down really low. Low, but not off. It doesn’t block all sound. If you yell loud enough, you can still be heard on a muted line. As Bart quickly found out.

This is Bart, thanks for holding.

Did you just call me a son of a @#$%!?

It was kind of sad to watch Bart try to talk his way out of a problem of his own making. The customer was actually reasonable about it. But, the event has stuck with me. You never know who might be listening. It’s important to remember to be a good representative whenever you are at work, or on the phone. And social media wasn’t prevalent 25 years ago when Bart and I were taking phone calls, but the same advice goes for your online comments. You have the right to say whatever you want. You do not have the right to escape consequences.

If you have to question whether something you are saying, or posting would be viewed in a negative light by your company, it’s probably a good idea to not say it. And remember to put the customer on hold instead of mute.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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