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I’m Going To Tell You How To Beat The Golden State Warriors

That was the situation I found myself in yesterday. I was invited to Sacramento to meet with my biggest client and their other six suppliers. My role is to be the technical liason between my business, a call center provider and my client. The client is interested in spreading their risk and encouraging competition for their business so they have seven suppliers.

The setup works well for both the client and the supplier. The client protects themself against the dangers of a single supplier. The seven of us have call centers all across the country. Regional weather outages will never effect more than a portion of the total business. And, it’s a great deal us as suppliers because we know that we each have room to grow. The client will continue to expand, but they are also not against rewarding productive suppliers at the expensive of unproductive ones. There’s a measurable advantage to being the #1 supplier.

We are the #1 supplier. We weren’t always #1. We started several years ago as the #7 supplier. It was a pretty good day when my contact told me that in the completely unofficial, but very real stack ranking system, we had finally achieved the rank of #1.

It’s not a position we take lightly and much of my job is spent trying to make sure we stay #1.

And that leads me to my visit to Sacramento. . .with the other six suppliers. I was here to lead a discussion about outage processes. Whenever a piece of the IT infrastructure breaks, it’s my job to make sure it gets fixed as quickly as possible. It’s actually the main purpose of my entire role. And, I do it better than any of their other points of contact at the other supplier.

Rodney, we were wondering if you could help the other suppliers figure out how to do what you do because you are the standard we want them to follow.

This was very gratifying and extremely intimidating. My management team and I discussed it. How do we provide value but not give away the secret sauce? If a big part of being #1 is how well we handle outages, won’t we give up our strategic advantage if we tell the competition how to do what we do?

I finally realized that we had nothing to worry about. I explained that while I would of course, use discretion, I honestly didn’t think there was going to be a problem. And that we could be as transparent as we wanted.

The NBA basketball playoffs started this week. The Utah Jazz are in the playoffs for the first time in five years. They are playing a series against the LA Clippers. The winner faces the Golden State Warriors in the next round. The Golden State Warriors are a great team. They have some great players. And every team in the NBA can tell you exactly how to beat them:

  • Contain Kevin Durant
  • Don’t let Stephen Curry beat you from the 3-point line
  • Have your team score more points than the Warriors do

Now, all you have to do is go out and execute on that strategy. To do that, you need to have the right personnel.

That’s why it won’t matter if we offer up our process. The “secret sauce” isn’t in the recipe, it’s in the ingredients. It’s our people, not our process that sets us apart. Knowing how to beat the Golden State Warriors won’t help you actually beat the Golden State Warriors, unless you have the expertise and the talent to exectuve on the plan.

We had a productive discussion. We talked about escalation trees, and ticketing systems. We discussed tools and response times. And through it all, I shared what was working for us, secure in the knowledge that we not only knew how to beat the Golden State Warriors, but we had the players to do it. . .and they didn’t.

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
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

I Used My Phone At Dinner Because It Would Be Rude Not To

The business dinner included 16 people, half of whom I was meeting for the first time. We were mostly competitors, invited to Sacramento by our common client. It was the first time the client had invited all of us to the same event. This was the dinner the night before our conference. The setup was that awkward two sided table, eight people down one side and eight down the other. You basically could talk to the four or five people right around you.

Overall the dinner went well. The mood was light and congenial. We each told not too embarrassing stories and slowly got to know each other. Jacob worked for the client and he was on call. His phone rang. As he came back to the table, he mentioned,

Agents are reporting an issue with posting notes to a record. Just the travel agents.

As suppliers, we each owned different types of calls from the client. I was one of the bigger suppliers. We had all types of agents, including travel agents.

I pulled out my phone and sent an email to all of my supervisors.

Could you check with our travel agents and see if they are having an issue posting notes. Let me know.

-Rodney

Several other suppliers who had travel agents also pulled out their phones. Some had travel, others were simply checking to see if the problem was wider spread. One of the surprising things was how natural the conversation continued at the table.

We each told stories of getting calls from the client at all times of the night and day. We all had examples of how we simply keep going about our lives during outage phone calls. The only one who really had an issue at dinner was Jacob. As the client, he had to join a conference call. I got email back from my supervisors.

We are seeing this issue, but it’s very low volume, maybe 10 calls today. Please advise

I checked with Jacob. His team was working on it, but it didn’t appear to be high enough volume for us to worry about opening our own call. I replied to my production floor.

Let’s just monitor it for now. No need to escalate. If it gets worse, let me know.

I set my phone down face up next to my plate. As emails came in, I scanned to see if our issue was getting worse. In the mean time, I enjoyed the Mexican food and the conversation. All around the table, people placed their own phones within easy reach.

You know those “detox” camps where people have to give up their cell phones and they end up going through withdrawls? Yeah, I hate those people. I can’t wait for a job where I don’t have to be tied to my phone.

There were knowing nods around the table. This group more than most understood how rude it would be if we refused to use our phones during dinner.

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
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

How A ‘Can’t Lose’ Lost

Three months. For three months, I’d been planning it. And no matter how I looked at it, I couldn’t see a way to lose. No matter what the other guy tried, I was going to win. I replayed the scenario over and over in my mind, looking for any flaw in my strategy. I was going to win. It was going to be great.

I was right and very, very wrong.

I’ve recently started playing a game called Star Trek Attack Wing. The game is fun, especially if you’re a fan of the Star Trek series and movies. The game is simple, and very complex. You pick a ship, or serveral ships. You pick a captain, crew members, weapons and any tech upgrades. Then, you put your fleet against your opponent’s fleet in a 36″ x 36″ play area. Of course, there are attack dice that cause damage to your opponent, defense dice that help keep you from taking damage, movement options and several Star Trek specific features, like cloaking or “warp drive.”

The scenario we played on Saturday was simple. It was based on the Klingon Civil War, a series of episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation television series. However, I noticed something about the rules. In a tournament, (also called an OP for Organized Play) the victory conditions involved not only defeating the enemy ships, but also accomplishing specific mission objectives. One of these was to have one of your ships make a particular movement called a “banked sensor echo.” You got 5 victory points each time one of your ships performed this move.

A typical “fleet” included 3 ships, each valued at about 40 points. Given that a typical game goes four or five turns, the victory points for the sensor echo were not nearly as important as trying to kill one of the opponent’s 45 point ships.

Except, there was a flaw in the scoring. Researching strategies from those how had already played the OP, they pointed out that instead of 3 ships costing about 40 points each, you could choose to field 12 ships costing 10 points each. Now, these little ships were not very strong. There was no way they would be able to kill a 40 point ship. But, they didn’t have to. All they had to do was sensor echo each turn and they’d rack up points. After the first turn, you’d earn 60 victory points from sensor echoing. After two turns, you’re at 120, the value of the opponent’s entire fleet. After the third turn, there is literally no way that you could lose. Even if your opponent kills a few of your ships, the remaining ones will continue to score points until the one hour time limit is reached.

It wasn’t a completely painless strategy. Each ship, cost $15 retail. Even finding some on sale, it wasn’t cheap to buy a bunch of these weak ships. But, there were prizes awarded for winning the OP. And technically the rules allowed this setup.

I couldn’t lose.

But, I did. Oh, not the battles. They went exactly as I had practiced. The first game, I lost three of my twelve ships, but I completed 44 sensor echoes.

Game 1 Final Score:
Him: 33 points
Me: 220 points

Not even close. I win! And that’s when I realized the real flaw in my plan. The person I was playing was good player. He enjoyed multiple types of games only one of which was Star Trek. He played a competent game and aside from some very unlucky dice rolls, played well. But, he didn’t have any fun. He knew the result before we started. He only agreed to play because it was a tournament.

The second game was between the other two players at the OP. The one I’d played first had a 4 ship fleet, with a very weak ship acting as his flag ship. The second player had three strong ships. The battle was back and forth for the first 45 minutes, but the tide turned in the last quarter hour and one person came off victorious. It was a hard fought battle and both players had a lot of fun. Even I had fun and I was just watching.

The third game of the night was me against the loser from the second game. He’d seen the first game and had some ideas on strategy. We were pretty quick between turns and managed to get eight turns completed within the hour. He killed three of my ships. I never took even a single shot at his ships.

Game 2 Final Score:
Him: 34 points
Me: 350 points

I had come to the tournament with a specific strategy and it had paid off brilliantly. And I have rarely been so embarrased in my life. I found myself apologizing to my two opponents. The three of us played for three hours, one hour of which was enjoyable and two hours of which were pretty boring and not fun.

Yes, I knew I was going to win. I spent a not insignificant amount of money buying special ships to ensure I won. I came with a plan and it worked beautifully. I won not only the prize ship for the night, but the grand prize for the entire 3-month campaign.

And I went home the biggest loser. The point of the game was not to win the prize ships. The point of the game was to enjoy each others company and to play your fleet against the other guy’s fleet. But, I completely missed the fact that “playing” and “winning” were not the same thing.

To Aaron and Will, I apologize. I’ll try not to lose so badly in the future.

The best game of the night played out on a Star Wars game mat.

My strategy of “Run but don’t fight” was more accurately described as “You can’t win.” 

What a typical fleet looks like.


My il-fated winning fleet.

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) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Happy Holiday. . .Or Four

Two billion dollars. That’s the amount that will be spent on candy for this weekend. That’s just a part of the estimated $18,000,000,000 that will be spent by United States consumers for this weekend.

So, what’s the occasion?

It depends on whom you ask. There are at least four celebrations that happen this week.

Jewish Passover

The first holiday happened a couple of days ago. April 11th was the date of the Jewish celebration of Passover. It was also the night of the full moon. That was not a coincidence. The Jewish calendar is based on twelve lunar months of 29 or 30 days each. The new moon marks the beginning of each month and Passover is celebrated on the 14th day of Nisan, the 7th month in the year. If you start your month on the new moon, the full moon is going to occur 14 days later. Passover is always the night of the full moon.

Chag Kasher V’Sameach to my Jewish friends.

Pagan Ostara

March 20th is the date of the Spring or Vernal Equinox this year. The Vernal Equinox is when the sun crosses over the plane of the equator. It’s the day on which the amount of daylight and the amount of darkness are roughly equal. In the Norther Hemisphere the “days” now get longer.

Pagans typically celebrate the Ostara in connection with the Vernal Equinox. The celebration recognizes the arrival of spring. It’s true that this holiday was last month, but its ties to the Christian celebration of Easter are pretty close, so I’ve included it here.

Christian Easter

I love calendars, dates and time keeping. Easter is one of the few calendar events that cannot be computed with just a calendar. Most holidays are calendar-based. Thanksgiving is the third Thursday in November. Christmas is the 25th of December. But, Easter, is the first Sunday after the first fullmoon after the Vernal Equinox. Its name comes from the Pagan Sumerian goddess Ishtar.

Christians celebrate this as the day that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. Along with Christmas, it’s one of the most revered day in Christianity. It also happens this coming Sunday, April 16.

The Other One

So, that’s three. What’s the fourth holiday? I’m not sure what to call it. Most people call it Easter. But, it borrow from the Pagan traditions more than Christianity. Easter morning, millions of kids will wake up to Easter baskets. Baskets full of fake plastic grass, eggs, bunnies, chocolate and lots and lots of candy.

Eggs and rabbits were the two symbols of Eostre, the Lunar goddess of fertility. I’m not sure that sugar has its origins in anything other than candy companies, but the egg and rabbit symbol are ancient.

Whether you are Jewish, Pagan, Christian or just a lover of all things confectionary, here’s hoping you have a wonderful holiday.

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) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Hey, Where’s My Money?

Where’s the rest of my money?

What do you mean?

It says here I’m getting $9,000. I think that should be more like $18,000.

I was speaking to my brother. And the money wasn’t actually coming from him. He’s my accountant and we were discussing my taxes. My brother owns a CPA firm “Bliss & Skeen CPA.” The “Bliss” portion was my mother, who founded the firm. She’s been retired for years. My brother is the “Skeen” portion. 

Mixing family and money is a often a volatile combination. When my mother ran the firm, it sometimes led to awkward conversations.

Well, I don’t really understand why you don’t have more money in the bank, given what you make.

After my brother took over, it improved my relationship with Mom and never became an issue with my brother. 

Honestly, Rodney? They’re just numbers. I don’t even really pay attention to the amounts. I’m just interested in making sure we’ve claimed all the correct deductions and credits.

There are some benefits to having a brother who is a CPA. First, of course, is that I don’t have to do my taxes. I get the data to him and he fills out all the paperwork. My taxes have been complicated at times. I’ve had LLCs in my name, and I’ve written books with advances and royalty payments. I’ve been a 1099 employee keeping track of all of my own deductions. It’s not unusual for my tax forms to be literally a book that is 30-40 pages long. 

But, the second, and better benefit is that I haven’t paid taxes in the past 20 years. Oh, I file my taxes every year. Or, rather, my brother’s firm files them electronically for me. But, when you look at the numbers at the bottom of the page, it never says, “You paid the government this much money.” 

There are lots of reasons. I have a large family, so the child tax credit helps. I donate a lot of money to my church and other charities. I have a mortgage. And I have a really good accountant. 

This year, I was surprised though. We bought solar panels last year. We rolled the $35,000 expense into a home refinance. But, we get a bunch of that back on our taxes. It should be close to a third. And it was that money that I didn’t see in my tax refund. My brother explained.

Yeah, so the solar panels qualify for a non-refundable tax credit. And it wasn’t $9,000. It was more like $11,700. But, the thing about a non-refundable tax credit is that it can only be applied to the tax you owe. After all the other deductions your tax liability came to $756. So, we applied the solar panel credit to that. The rest of it rolls forward to next year.

You’re telling me that at the current rate, I have enough tax credits for the next 10 years?

Pretty much. 

It doesn’t even help if I cut back on my charitable giving, or other deductions. Neither would change my tax liability and so wouldn’t affect the amount of a refund. Of course, in the next 10 years my kids will be leaving home and I’ll lose those deductions. And at some point, I’ll retire (although not within ten years.) But, in the mean time That $10,000 stays with the government. 

The only way I could get a bigger refund check is if the government were to increase my tax rate. Think about that for a minute. If the government raised my taxes, I’d get a bigger refund check next year. Like I said, it’s great to have a brother who is a CPA. 
I haven’t paid taxes in the last 20 years and it appears I won’t be paying taxes for the next decade or so. 

But, meanwhile the government gets to keep my money. 

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
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Pick Your Poison

You cant swim with me

I was new on the Timberline high school swim team. And had only been to a few practices. As you can imagine, you do lots of swimming at swim practice. The pool was 25 meters long, divided into multiple swim lanes. The slowest swimmers swam in the lanes to the far right. The fastest swimmers to the far left. And each swimmer was expected to pick his own lane.

Rather than stick to the far right lane, where my skills dictated I should be, I moved several lanes to the left and found myself in the same lane as Jeff. Jeff wasn’t being mean. He was being honest. As a junior and more importantly a long time swim team members, he swam much faster than I did. I literally would not be able to keep up with him. And he didn’t want me in his lane.

You might be tempted to think it was a sense of superiority that prompted his comment. It wasn’t. It was practical. We were going to swim at least a dozen laps or more during the warm up. If I insisted on swimming in Jeff’s lane, he was going to quickly outdistance me, probably before we hit the first turn. The lanes were big enough for swimmers to go both ways. Like cars, we stayed to the right. There were still occasional collisions, but mostly in the lanes to the far right.

Jeff knew that within a couple hundred yards he was going to not only have distanced himself, he was going to have literally “lapped” me. He’d be swimming up behind me and have to either slow down or attempt a difficult passing maneuver. Neither of which appealed to him.

As I made my way back to the lanes on the far right-hand side of the pool, I thought about the idea that we choose to be where we are comfortable. Swimming with the other first year swimmers, we would all go about the same speed. No one would need to worry about passing or being held back. In fact, that was how you knew that you were ready to move a lane to the left. If you consistently were out-swimming the people in your lane, you moved up a lane. If you were injured or simply needed to back off your pace, you moved down a lane.

In the Mormon theology, it’s believed that in the afterlife, people will pick their own version of paradise. It’s a unique concept that on the surface seems crazy. I mean, if you get to pick your eternal reward, why wouldn’t you pick the very top?

If you get to write your own check. . .write a big check

But, actually, we incorporate that concept into our daily lives.

    I don’t want to sit too close to the front of the theater, it gives me a headache
    I want concert tickets as close to the stage as possible, I love the noise
    I’m not comfortable driving more than a couple of miles per hour over the speed limit, I’m going to stick to the middle lanes

Every day, we self-select the people we choose to be around, the neighborhoods we choose to live in, the people we choose to go to lunch with. We are constantly “picking our own poison.”

When we don’t end up in a spot we are comfortable with, we either move or we adapt. If you cannot stand working for your boss, you go look for another job. If you hate the snow, you move to a warmer climate. Of course, families complicate that picture quite a bit. As a child, actually a young adult, I couldn’t wait to escape my parents’ house. I didn’t like their rules. I didn’t like them telling me what to do. I didn’t like the restrictions. And while I understood that there were some benefits, they weren’t worth the cost. I moved.

But, I also adapted. As I had to pay for my own expenses I started to appreciate the things I’d taken for granted at home. As I started having my own kids, I started to understand the reasons for the rules and oversight. Eventually, I realized I was not that different than my own parents. In fact, we ended up in the same swim lane. I discovered that I like them and we shared similar values and priorities. Having the freedom to choose whom I would associate with, I chose them.

We don’t get to choose every aspect of our life and surroundings. And often there are things we’d dearly love to change or move from and we simply can’t. But, the more I thought about the concept, the more convinced I became that we really do get to pick the life we choose.

As for the theological question of what happens after we die? I’ll have to get back to you later on that one. Hopefully much later.

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
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LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Nothing Succeeds Like Success

If you want something done, ask a busy person.

Do you know why they say that? Sure, part of it is the fact that those busy people are motivated. If they are motivated to do other stuff, they’ll probably be motivated to do your stuff.

Part of it is probably that those people are good at getting stuff done. In baseball, there’s a pitcher whose role is called “the closer.” His job is to come in during the 9th inning and get the final three outs. In sales, the “closers” are the guys who get the client to commit and actually get the sale. It’s a skill. Busy people often have it.

But, I think the real reason that a busy person is more likely to get done whatever you are asking them for is that nothing succeeds like success.

Baseball season just started. Already my beloved Seattle Mariners are mired in last place in their division. But, the season is early and they are only three and a half games back of the first place team. At some point the M’s are going to have a winning streak. They won yesterday for their second win of the young season, so maybe that will be the start. But, a winning streak takes on a life of its own. The team starts to believe in themselves. They start to believe they can’t lose. And that confidence helps them perform better. They start to succeed because they are succeeding.

Most of us will never play center field for the Mariners (or any other team except maybe our company softball team.) But, we each have “games” we are trying to win. We have stresses. We have doubts. (Yes, everyone has them, don’t let anyone tell you differently. They are lying.) And as we meet each challenge, as we “win” each game, just like major league ballplayers, we start to gain confidence. We begin to trust ourselves. We start to feel we can’t lose. And that confidence helps us accomplish the next task, and the next, and the one after that. Soon, we are plowing through our TODO list like a baserunner running through the stop sign at third. We know it’s going to work.

So what if you aren’t that guy or woman? What if you are in a slump? What can you do about it? Fortunately, none of us have to face a 95 MPH fastball to try to get out of our hitting slump. You look for the easy wins. You look for the low hanging fruit. You start to chaulk up some wins. And as surely as a Wednesday get-away day follows a three game homestand, we will start to see success. We can’t help but start to become more successful.

And unlike the 30 teams in MLB, we are not competing with our coworkers for wins. We can all win. And as you start to get those wins, others will start looking to you to be the goto person. They will bring projects to you not because you are busy, but because you are successful.

It’s the start of a whole new season. Start your own winning streak.

(And go M’s!)

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) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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