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Incompetence Is Bad. . .This Is Worse

We’ve all been there right? We’ve had that coworker who was just not very good at their job. Sometimes it’s understandable. I enjoy working with interns and recent college grads. These people come into the workforce with a little bit of knowledge, very little experience, and (hopefully) a whole lot of enthusiasm.

I have a set of management rules that I use when I manage a team. The very first rule is

1. In the absence of orders: attack

Basically it’s me empowering my team to make decisions. I don’t want them to ignore directions. In other words, follow your orders. But, in those cases where there is no direction, I want my team to use their best judgement and make the decision. Don’t wait around on trying to find me if it’s a time critical issue.

Employees often don’t believe me at first. But, as long as I continue to support them in trusting their judgement, eventually they realize that I mean what I say.

You see the problem, right? What if they make the wrong decision? Surprisingly, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as you might think. Sure, occasionally, I’ve had to correct someone after the fact, “You did this, but you should have done that.” It becomes a teaching moment. But, the majority of the time, they make the right decision. Or, at least a right decision. And many times, they come up with a better solution than I would have thought of.

Most importantly, it let’s them feel like they own their job. . .and their decisions. It builds their confidence and enthusiasm.

In rare cases, it turns out an employee is just a bad fit. They are enthused. They are motivated. But, the job doesn’t fit their skills. I can work with that. We can either train them, or move them. But, if their intentions are good, we can work with them.

It’s not the worst thing in the world.

What is?

I had a project manager one time on a very high profile project. In hindsight, I should have done the PM work myself, but I really felt like a professional PM would get our project on track. We hired a guy and it was immediately obvious that we were going to have some issues integrating him into our development team. He knew how to do project management. . .sort of. But, he wasn’t working well with the developers. And when he went to make those “in the absence of orders” decisions, it didn’t go well.

Our investors wanted him gone. My developers were frustrated. But, I wasn’t ready to cut bait with him. We continued to work on his skills.

And then, he went to sit at our client’s location one day and fell asleep. . .twice. . .before lunch.

I fired him. Not because he fell asleep. That was bad, and likely would have warrented firing. But, he then denied it; to me, to the client, to everyone. In other words, he insisted it wasn’t his problem.

As an experienced manager your job is to coach your team. Incompetence is not a crime. For example, I am completely incompentent when it comes to supply chain management. If I were asked to step into that role, I would be way behind the curve. But, given time and experience, and a willingness to learn, I’m confident I could figure it out.

I’m an expert in project management and team leadership. I have tons of experience and dozens of successful projects and teams. However, if I get hired by a company and I refuse to learn their system, or I just refuse to do the job, no amount of training will correct that.

I’ll take enthusiastic incompetence over lazy intransigence any day.

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

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

(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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Own Your Name

In 1979, a young car salsemen named Larry opened a dealership in Murray, Utah. Naturally he named it after himself. The only problem was there was already a car dealer named Larry Miller. But, that was his name too, right? You can’t be forbidden from using your own name. Can you?

Apparently, Mr Miller of the new dealership in Murray met with Mr Miller of the established dealerships. It was agreed that the new guy could use his name if he always included his middle initial, “H.” And thus was born the Larry H. Miller dealerships.

Today, fourty years later, Larry H. Miller is a well known entity in, not only Utah (11 dealerships), but Washington (3 dealerships), New Mexico (5 dealerships), Idaho (4 dealerships), California (3 dealerships), Arizona (9 dealerships) and Colorado (11 dealerships.) Larry H Miller also owns a string of movie theaters, parts stores, and the Utah Jazz professional basketball team.

I read a quote that Larry H. Miller reportedly made after meeting his namesake.

We’ll see who remembers Larry Miller in 10 years.

Virtually everyone in Utah knows the name Larry H. Miller. In fact, if you were to say his name as Larry Miller, it would ring false on many people’s ears. He owned his name.

When I started these scribbles and sending them out on the internet, I thought about a name. There are plenty of clever cute names. There are inspiring and uplifting names. I finally decided that I would just name this corner of the internet after my name. There was only one problem. RODNEYBLISS.COM was already taken. There’s a real estate agent back east that owns the domain. He seems like a nice enough guy. But, he’s obviously using the domain. So, like the successful car dealer, I added my middle initial, M. That’s why this site is called http://www.rodneymbliss.com.

My brother is also a computer guy. He owned richardbliss.com and used it as a landing page for his online presence. He lost track of the renewal date and his domain became available. A lawyer ended up buying it. The lawyer’s name isn’t Richard Bliss. He lost control of his name.

There are actually a couple of Richard Bliss’ that have been in the news over the past years. One was a spy in Russia. Another was part of a shooting in Florida a few years ago. We also have a nephew named Richard.

You can now find my brother’s online presence at http://www.richardabliss.com.

Think about some of the famous names in history. Look at the following list.

  • George Washington
  • George Washington Carver
  • George Herbert Walker Bush
  • George Walker Bush
  • John Adams
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Larry Miller
  • Larry H. Miller
  • Rodney Bliss
  • Rodney M Bliss
  • Michael Jordan
  • Michael B. Jordan

Each name is like another name. But, each one is a unique individual. They each forged their own identify and identified their name with it. Some, probably did it almost unconciously. The sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams, probably had to deal with sharing a name with his famous father, the second president, John Adams. The same with Presidents Bush.

When I left home, my mother advised me to go by my full name, Rodney, rather than the name I grew up with, Rod. Today my family still calls me Rod. But, when working it lands wrong on my ear to hear someone call me anything but Rodney.

I enjoy working with interns and people new out of college. It’s humbling to have the chance to influence people new to the workforce. They haven’t yet forged their professional identity. They haven’t yet owned their name. It’s one of the first things I tell them: decide how you want to be called.

My friend Howard writes the Schlock Mercenary online military comic. He described it this way.

Your name is in the mouth of others. Make sure it has teeth.
Maxim 16, Seventy Maxims of Highly Effective Mercenaries

Slightly different aspect, but certainly the same idea.

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

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

(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Whatever The Cost

Do you know what’s not particularly valuable but seems like it should be?

Old bibles.

Seriously, you cannot even give them away. I know. I tried. Well, sort of. My lovely wife’s family had an old family bible. And it was very old, at least by American standards. It was printed in the 1880s.

Books, like anything, wear out. It’s why we value old things, I think. Or maybe it’s the idea of connecting with our history that makes us value them. In any case, my lovely wife’s family had this old bible. And it was in the care of one of her brothers. He sent out an email asking if “anyone wants to the old bible.” She was the only one who spoke up.

When it arrived it could best be described as “A book in a box.” The book was huge, well over 1200 pages. It was about 6″ tall when laid on its side. It had the cool metal latches that hold the covers together. Or they would if the back cover wasn’t disconnected.

There were mutiple pages that had come out and many that were disinagrating, mere fragments.

It sat like that for many years. At one point we decided that maybe we should donate it to a place that would give it some care. I offered it to the local university library. It was at that point that I learned the fate of old bibles. The fact is, they just aren’t that valued. And that’s if they are in good condition.

Online the valuable ones are the ones without the genealogy page filled in. People aren’t interested in buying a book with your family’s genealogy. My lovely wife’s book had all the genealogy pages filled in. Interestingly the Temperance page, where people pledged to not drink alcohol was blank.

Overall my lovely wife’s book had a lot wrong with it. In fact, we couldn’t even give it away. So, it sat in our closet. A book in a box. Until one Christmas when I decided to give my wife a gift of a restored bible.

I had a friend, a fellow mason, who restored old books. I took him our book in a box and asked him for his opinion.

We can do a lot with this. It won’t be museum quality, but I’m guessing that’s not really what you are after.

What will it be when you get done?

It will be a bible that you can actually use.

He explained that the reason the bindings break on the really big books, especially the old bibles, is they were never designed to lay flat. It puts too much strain on the spine and eventually the binding splits. That’s what happened to my lovely wife’s book.

So, what do you think it will cost?

Hard to say until we get into it more, but I would guess that it will be in the $1500 range.

I’ve heard that old bibles don’t command a lot online. What would you guess this one will be worth?

Are the genealogy pages filled out?

Yeah.

Then, probably $300-$400. Still want to go through with it?

Absolutely.

While my friend restored the book, I built a a display stand for it. They were both ready for her on Christmas. That year we started the tradition on Christmas eve of reading the story of Jesus’ birth from her new/old bible.

It did come out to $1500. My friend gave me a break on the price. A pretty substantial one, but it still was more than twice what it was “worth” online.

My lovely wife’s family is thrilled that the bible has been restored. It belonged to their grandmother. A grandmother that was my lovely wife’s namesake. They all agree it seems fitting that she now has it.

It made no economical sense to pay to restore her book. In fact, like the story of the family piano, it was possible that I might have been disappointed in spending more for a book that it was “worth.”

The fact was, it was important to me to do this for her. And I would have paid any price.

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

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

(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Not At Any Price

The most disciplined man I ever met was a piano tuner. And I know he was disciplined because I wasn’t able to hire him.

It was while I was working for Microsoft. My lovely wife and I had just finished building our dream house. We’d spent ten years designing it and 18 months building it. It was a wonderful place to raise our kids. It was in the middle of a 5 acre forested lot. My neighbors also had 5 acre forested lots. The leftover old growth stumps were scattered amongst the 100 foot tall second growth firs, and hemlock and vine maples. (Well, the maples weren’t 100 feet.) Our backyard looked like a park.

We had a lovely music room. We installed my lovely wife’s 105 year old stand up grand piano. This piano, while over a hundred years old, had been hard used. It was missing one of the pedals. It was missing multiple hammers. Several of the keys were either stuck in the up or the down position.

I decided that as a gift to my lovely wife, I’d arrange to have it restored. I could repair and refinish the exterior, but I needed a professional to do the inside. I knew that it would cost more to repair it than it would be worth. Kind of like a restored Ford Mustang that costs $20,000 to restore and is worth $15,000 when you are done.

I assumed the piano would cost up to $1000 to restore. I expected it would be worth several hundred when we got done. But, it was worth it as a gift to my lovely wife.

I arranged for a piano repairman to come to our home. In preparation I stripped the exterior panels. The piano looked a little like a halloweeen skeleton that had been used as a pinata. With the interior laid bare the broken pieces were obvious. In fact, in some places, someone long ago had taken another hammer and glued it in place of one of the broken ones.

If anything, I was excited about the prospect of what a transformation it would be. I could hardly wait for repairman to show up. When he did, I eagerly led him into the music room.

Before even putting down his toolbox he turned to me and said,

Not at any price.

What do you mean?

Not at any price. I can’t fix your piano.

Is the damage too great?

It’s not that. But, I won’t do it.

I still don’t get it.

Look, obviously it will take a lot of work. And that will be very expensive.

Right.

But, when I get done, you won’t be happy with it. You’ll be upset that it was so expensive.

Okay, I get it. Don’t worry. I promise I won’t be upset.

Yes, you will.

I expect this will cost $800 to $1,000.

It won’t be worth nearly that much when you are done.

I know. But, it’s kind of a family heirloom.

But, you will still not be happy spending a thousand dollars for a piano worth half that.

But, I’m telling you, I will. In fact, just tell me how much it will cost and I’ll pay you in advance.

Not at any price.

And with that, he turned and left my house.

I was dumbfounded. In fact, even now, years later, I cannot think of anything I could have told him to make him take the job. And I honestly would have been fine with any price.

We eventually sold the piano (still broken) at a yard sale. We put a sign on it that said,

MAKE AN OFFER

We eventually changed the sign to “$50” and it sold in about 30 minutes.

I’ve often thought about that piano repairman. When I’ve been presented with an opportunity to take on a job, I wonder about him. I wonder about myself. Are there jobs that I would turn down no matter the price? Are there tasks that I could walk away from regardless of the offer?

I’ve taken some jobs I shouldn’t have. And I’ve passed on some jobs I should have taken. But, it’s the times I walked away from a job that I shouldn’t have taken that I have been most proud of myself.

I assume that piano repairman felt the same way.

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

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

(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Why We Talk About What We Can’t Change

Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
– Charles Dudley Warner

If you thought it was Mark Twain who first said that, don’t worry, so did I.

I live in a desert. Here, water is life. And not just water, all forms of percipitation; rain, snow, lakes, rivers, resevoirs, snow pack, even ground water levels.

I follow several weather accounts on Facebook. There’s the Utah Snow Forecast. They publish reports all year round. Of course, when the snows start in the Fall, the reports become more detailed. It’s not just a listing of snow levels. The writers use multiple data models to chart not only where this year compares with past years, but what we can expect for the coming months.

Talking about the weather doesn’t change a thing, of course. So, as Mr Charles Dudley Warner said, why talk about it?

Because in a desert, water is life. We get as little as 10 inches of snow in Southern Utah to as much as more than 400 inches at some of the ski resorts.

Utah has very “dry” snow. The moisture content is very low. It makes for the greatest snow on earth. (Ski Utah!) Ten inches of Utah’s great snow contains an inch of water.

Like many parts of the country, we have a monsoon season. The rains come in fall and the snows throughout the winter, of course. And that water needs to get us through the spring and especially the summer. It’s important because, in the spring, when the snow starts to melt, it fills our rivers and our flows into our resevoirs.

There a surprising amount of forecasting and planning that goes into an annual water plan. If the water managers expect a large spring runoff, they will let the resevoirs get low, to make sure there’s room for it. If they leave too much water behind the dams, in the Spring they will have to let too much water downstream and overflow the banks. Let out too much and the resevoirs won’t be full enough in the summer and fall.

The forecasters use history, science, current conditions and a little bit of “finger in the wind” estimates to chart the water estimates for the year.

Data, Big Data feed the forecasts. Various bits of data, each incomplete in itself, are fed into the models. Forecasts are compared against actual conditions and the results are fed back into the computer models.

So, despite Mr Charles Dudley Warner’s words, there actually is a lot we can do after we’ve talked about the weather.

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

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

(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

What’s Your Favorite Type Of Book?

I was asked that question recently. A friend was planning to send me a book and wanted to know what I might like.

I have three favorite authors: Orson Scott Card, Louis L’Amore and Clive Cussler. I also like classic science fiction: Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ben Bova, Heinlien. I enjoy biographies, especially political ones.

I then realized that what I was really interested in weren’t Westerns or Science Fiction or even the short stories that I read.

It’s really management books. I have dozens. Possibly hundreds. I can rattle off my favorites like some iTunes playlist.

My top five are

  1. First Break All The Rules
  2. Dale Carnegies’s How to Win Friends and Influence People
  3. Influencer
  4. Never Eat Lunch Alone
  5. Crucial Conversations

“Purple Cow” and “Stealing The Show” are a couple of my favorite marketing books.

On my bookshelf at work I have four books. They are visible for a reason. They are designed to make people think.

  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  • The Prince by Machiavelli
  • The Art of The Deal by Donald Trump
  • The Seventy Habits of Highly Successful Mercenaries by Howard Tayler

I’m not sure what impression people will get with those particular titles, but I like the story they tell.

I have the list of books that I don’t like:

  • The 4 Hour Work Week
  • Leadership and Self Deception
  • The Traveller

I’ve read books that everyone thought were great, but failed to impress me.

  • Good To Great
  • Who Moved My Cheese
  • Our Iceberg is Melting

I’ve read run of the mill management books that made some excellent points but didn’t make a huge impression

  • The Inmates Are Running the Asylum
  • Crucial Confrontations
  • The Mythical Man Month
  • Business at The Speed of Thought and The Information Super Highway by Bill Gates
  • Everything I Know About Business I Learned At Microsoft
  • 13 Mistakes That Managers Make

I have several books on my current reading list.

  • Mind Rules
  • Getting Things Done
  • The Power of Habit
  • Crucial Conversations (again)

I have dozens more that I don’t remember the names of without looking. But, I realized that as much as I love fiction, and short stories, I couldn’t name dozens of books off the top of my head and what impressed me about each one.

What kind of books do I read? Until he asked I hadn’t really considered it.

I’m not sure what kind of a story my reading list tells. If it weren’t mine, I’d say it was boring and nerdy. But, it is mine and apparently “Management books” is my favorite reading genre.

Weird.

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

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

(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

2019 – The Year Of The Robot

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law

– The Three Laws of Robotics, from 1942 “Runaround” Isaac Asimov

The brilliant science fiction writer Isaac Asimov gave us the Three Laws, but we have to look even further back to find the origin of the word ROBOT. The word, and concept was introduced nearly 100 years ago.

Robot – a bio-engineered worker without a soul

Introduced in 1920 play “RUR” or Russum’s Universal Robots” by Czech playwright Karel Capek

The word itself is from the Old Church Slavonic word, robota. The word means “servitude of forced labor.” And as long as robots have inhabited literature or our imaginations, that’s what they have been, servants.

Robots came to life, real life, in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1948 William Walter invented two robots he called Elmer and Elsie. They didn’t do much, but they were able to mimic lifelike behaviors and could crawl back to their charging stations when they started to run out of juice. In 1954 George Devol invented the first digitally operated and programmable robot. The first industrial robot. It was called Unimate. In 1961 it was introduced to the factory floor in a GM plant in 1961.

I think 2019 will be, in many ways the first true year of the robot. Today robots take many forms. There are industrial robots that don’t look at all like a person. And there are hyper life-like robots that are . . .very lifelike. We have self-driving cars. We have self-propelled vacuum cleaners. We have robots that don’t move, such as Alexa, Siri, Cortana and whatever you call the “Hey, Google” persona.

The line between robotics and artificial intelligence, or AI has continued to blur. AIs have become more and more sophisticated. In fact, AIs, while lacking true sentience, have managed to beat the masters in nearly all games of chance and skill. When left to “learn” by themselves, AIs will also cheat in order to win. Not just games, but ordinary tasks as well.

And that’s the problem. Robots, powered by AI are only as good as their programmers. Robots, and their underlying AI have a heart of code, not flesh. It means that robots don’t make moral judgements. They simply do what they are programmed to do. Sometimes this is with tragic results.

Industrial robots don’t think twice about crushing a human worker if he, or she, happens to get in the way. Automated cars, which have ventured tentatively out on the roads in 2018, will quickly join in droves.

In 1811, a group of men in Nottingham England, formed a secret society dedicated to protesting the use of machinery in the textile industry. They were called the Luddites. And their name has become synonymous with anti-technology. In 1816 the Luddites were eventually surpressed by military response.

We can expect similar responses as we witness 2019s rise of the machines. Last year, in Chandler, AZ, a self-driving car hit and killed a pedestrian. The company Waymo (owned by Google) is testing self-driving cars in Chandler. Tensions are rising. Twenty Waymo self-driving cars have had their tires slashed over the past two years.

Alexa and similar digital assistants have raised privacy concerns. Security hasn’t kept up with the exciting advances in robots and artificial intelligence.

But, like the Luddites, those who oppose the coming robot invasion are destined to fail.

At some time in the not too distant future artificial intelligence will reach a point at which it will achieve true sentience. It’s called the singularity. If a “dumb” AI will cheat to win a game, what will a “smart” AI do? It’s a question that technologists and science fiction writers have debated for a hundred years.

Asimov created his Three Laws to address the issue.

Too bad for now they are just fiction. Because no matter what happens, the robots are coming whether we are ready for them or not.

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

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

(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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