Skip to content

Where Did THAT Come From?

February 10, 2014

I stared again.

Yes. There was no doubt about it. My game board definitely had a flaw. Right in the middle of the map, someone had stuck a letter ‘U,’ it was about a half inch high and nearly perfectly blended into the mountain-scape. I’m not even sure what made me notice it. I think I just glanced at the board from a slightly different angle and it nearly jumped out at me.

The board was a map of pre-WWI Europe. It was the map for the game Diplomacy. My brother (him of the Now Would Be a Great Time To Shut Up fame) and I had been playing Diplomacy for months. This particular game had been going on for weeks.

If you’ve never played Diplomacy, the game mechanic is very simple. Pre-WWI Europe is broken up into countries and then territories within each country. Each country had a certain number of supply centers. The object was to be the first to capture 18 supply centers. What made it challenging was that like chess, there were no dice involved. In fact, no element of chance at all. You wrote orders for moving armies and navies. If two armies were ordered to occupy the same space, neither got to advance. However, if one army had a second army supporting it, then the 2:1 advantage allowed it to advance.

The problem was that Diplomacy was not really meant to be a two player game. The whole point was that different people played the different countries and you tried to negotiate treaties and alliances and break treaties and you did lots of talking and very little actual fighting.

However, there was no one else around for us to rope into our game. We were in Junior High School, at least I was, and it was just the two of us. So, we played anyway. This led to absolutely zero negotiating, and a very long near-stalemate. We would spend hours studying the board for even the slightest advantage to try to dislodge the other person’s position.

And that is how I happened to one day notice that the map was flawed. That random letter ‘U’ just sitting right in the middle of the Ural Mountains of Western Russia. I couldn’t wait to show Richard.

Come see what I found on the Diplomacy board.


Right there.


Right above my finger. Don’t you see it?


A letter! It’s the letter ‘U!’

No it’s not. . . .Oh. . . well look at that!

It really did take him several minutes to be able to pick the letter out of the background. That got us thinking.

Why do you think they would put a letter ‘U’ in the middle of the map?

Maybe it’s part of a word?

Like. . .


We moved the pieces out of the way and started scanning the map. There were no more letters. Just the one. We both agreed that we could not see any other letters. And then, we got an idea.

We took a piece of paper and cut a small hole just big enough to display the ‘U.’ We then started moving this paper across the map like some backwards Ouija board.

THERE! An S! Move the paper.

And when the paper was removed and we could see the entire map, the ‘S’ mysteriously disappeared. Placing the paper so it blocked out the rest of the map and we could see the ‘S’ again. Finally, we were able to pick it out without the paper. And as you might expect we discovered another ‘S’ an ‘I’ an ‘A’ and back in the other direction an ‘R.’

The map had been printed with the name RUSSIA to identify that country. We simply stared at each other as the realization hit us that if the word RUSSIA was on the map, then the name of every other country must also be on the map. We painstakingly searched until we located


This was not a big map. It was maybe 3′ square. In fact, here’s a picture of the version we had.

(Photo courtesy of Tom Hilton at flickr)

Even in this picture you can easily see the letters. So, why couldn’t we see the country names?

We had spent so many hours staring at that stupid map board, that the letters simply became part of the background. Even today I can picture that map in my mind’s eye.

The lesson here is pretty simple, of course. We all have blind spots. And like my brother and me, we often don’t even know we are missing seeing something. It’s part of the reason I love to work with interns or employees fresh out of college. They bring fresh eyes to an organization. They are not blinded by the “That’s the way we’ve always done it” philosophy. It’s important for ourselves to also check and make sure we aren’t being blinded by simply looking at the same situation over and over and being convinced there is only one possible outcome.

I’ve had employees tell me that they were considering moving departments because their current department will never see them as anything other than the position they started with.

A good friend of mine was the heir to a nationwide restaurant fortune. Although he was in his 20’s, he’d spent his whole life in the restaurant business and knew it inside and out. He was the Chief Operating Officer for one section of the country. A couple years later I bumped into him and he was working in a totally different industry, making a lot less money.

Randy, what happened with the COO job? Did they fire you?

No. I quit. They were never going to see me as anything except the owner’s son. It didn’t matter how good a job I did. I was never going to be accepted for my own contributions.

Randy had become part of the map, indistinguishable from the surrounding scenery. He’d rather struggle to make it on his own than stay and be unable to break out of his father’s shadow.

So, on those days when you suddenly notice the letter ‘U’ appearing where before there was nothing but mountains, take a moment to make sure that you haven’t been overlooking someone or something simply because you have been staring at the same board for too long.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (
LinkedIn (
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

One Comment

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Think You Know How To Win All You Can? | Rodney M Bliss

Leave a Reply