The Law of Sharp Edges – Maximize Synergy by Framing a Conversation

There are many times when communicating via text or email is insufficient. The dynamics of human creativity are not one-dimensional. Thoughts and ideas must be echoed and bounced off one another so that we may experience and interpret the patterns that reverberate around us. Think, for example, how much more productive it is to “talk it out” with someone, rather than merely texting back and forth. Think also about how damaging it can be to keep feelings bottled up inside, or the complications that can arise from someone misinterpreting the tone of a text message. Creative thought thrives on the positive interference patterns that happen when two creative forces intersect. It falls away when given only a unidirectional track upon which to work.

Live conversation is essential for situations where there is something that needs to be created, agreed upon, resolved, or worked through. There is no real substitute.

When people contemplate getting together, whether face-to-face or over the phone, the thing that often puts them off is the fear of getting trapped in a conversation filled with small talk and irrelevancies. But it need not be that way. I use what I like to call The Law of Sharp Edges, which states that if you give someone a clear delineation – a guideline as to where things start and end rather than just a vague idea, they will be more likely to accommodate your request or behave as you would like them to.

Here’s a bad example: “Can I call you tomorrow?”

Here’s an excellent example: “Can I call you tomorrow at 2:00 for a 10-minute chat about the ABC project?”

The bad example puts people “on the hook for the entire day.” It’s like being on call. You know the event might

happen, but you don’t know when or for how long. This has a profound impact on your entire internal self-preservation system. Your instinct fears the unknown, and it’s not an overstatement to point out that something as simple as a vague phone call commitment is indeed an unknown. As such your body reflexively tenses itself for the interaction to come.

The excellent example removes the unknown and delivers three essential knowns – when it will be, how long it will last and what it will be about. It makes it a far more appealing thing to commit to since there are sharp edges surrounding the event. It is constrained and finite.

Such simple techniques will make a huge difference in productivity and process, by merely allowing the dynamic creativity of live conversation to flourish without fear. The many tools we have to facilitate live discussions, from meeting rooms to phones, video-conferences, online collaborative chat apps, even virtual presence devices like the Double (pictured) or Beam, still need to win someone’s attention through the most basic of concerns: “how will this hurt me and how will I benefit?” Once you can get such instinctive self-preservation needs out of the way, your conversation is free to do what it does best: make progress.

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Why “Manager of First Impressions” Is Not a Vanity Title

There are two principles of human memory called the Law of Primacy and the Law of Recency. They are similar in concept. They support the notion that when someone encounters a series of related items such as a bunch of different messages written inside one email, or a group of people in a receiving line, it is either the first or the final item or person in the sequence that is remembered much more vividly than the rest. This one item or person will color an entire relationship going forward.

That’s why I pay particular attention to the way in which companies employ the individual who works at the front desk, in the lobby or reception area. Perhaps I should replace the word “employ” with “deploy,” for I am not referring to employment as in providing a job, but instead how that person and that position are used to further the positive image of a company.

Reception work is not always seen as the most rewarding position in an office. It can sometimes be tedious, and sometimes overly busy, and it is seldom well-paid. I have often heard people make the condescending statement, sometimes unintentionally, when giving a speech or presentation about how a particular topic, product, or trend will affect everyone from the CEO down to the receptionist, as if this latter position is the lowest on the corporate ladder.

What people tend to overlook with such a statement is that the person at reception holds an unrivaled power of first and last impressions, a force that can impact the entire company and everyone in it. I once visited the head office of a large pharmaceuticals company whose gleaming and airy atrium served as the meeting point for hundreds of vendors and buyers every week. Each of these people encountered a polite and efficient person at reception. This individual carried the title of “Manager of First Impressions.”

To me this is not an overly cute vanity title. It is instead the manifestation of the company’s mission statement. First impressions will influence a visitor’s actions and attitudes forever (that’s the Law of Primacy). It shapes an individual’s behavior upon entering the place of business and will influence how they interact.

Back at the pharmaceuticals company’s main lobby, as visitors return their badges and sign out of the building, this Manager of First Impressions takes care to not only actively and sincerely wish the visitors a good day, but also thanks them for visiting. Such simple but well-placed actions demonstrate a degree of care that is becoming less and less common. These actions, demonstrating an above average level of care to each of the hundreds of weekly visitors extends into the brand, generating an image of above average-quality that every company seeks to attain. The reception person operates as a primary catalyst in the success of any business.

On an individual level, the first and last seconds of your interactions with anyone will color their actions and attitudes from that point on. Everyone knows the importance of making good eye contact when shaking hands for the first time, but what about using their name in your parting remarks? Are you able to remember the name(s) of the person or people you have just met? This is a vital skill for managing reputations and relationships. Including a person’s name to your “goodbye” makes things warmer and more personal. It shows indisputably that you care.

In this age where so much communication is done by text, it is still human emotion that guides actions and ultimately influences decisions. Investing some time to implement and practice proactive impression management is essential, for individuals and businesses alike.

Change Management: Is It All In the Delivery?

Regardless of political affiliation, it is incumbent upon anyone involved in change management, stakeholder management or leadership to sit up and pay attention to the techniques currently being used by Mr. Trump and Mr. Ford. This is only common sense. Even if you dislike their style, to paraphrase the words of Don Vito Corleone it is better to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Both men maintain positions of almost absolute power. For them, this makes the initiation of change much more manageable. Mr. Ford has learned from Mr. Trump that there is no longer any need to run an idea through a gauntlet of advisors. It is far more expedient to announce it directly to the public through social media or carefully selected journalists.

If one were to compare this against Robert Cialdini’s six faces of influence, this is indisputably the face of authority in action.

However, as Mr. Trump has discovered, and as perhaps Mr. Ford will soon too, not every change deployed by a single tweet or hasty press conference will live to see its day. Numerous lower court rulings that have overturned many of Mr. Trump‘s initiatives show that at least to this moment in history, absolute power in either country is not yet absolute.

But it is still worth observing in both cases the degree to which they understand their stakeholders. Each leader recognizes a solid core base of devoted followers that approaches cult status. The influence and power that each has over their respective bases are not one based on fact, statistics, or explanation. It is one solely based on the power of personality.

Is this something that other people involved in change management should emulate? Is the power of charisma stronger than that of careful planning and communication in the stakeholder management process?

By comparison, how much of this type of charismatic influence did Steve Jobs have in the successful marketing of Apple products? Was it the cult of Apple that spurred sales, or was it a carefully executed plan? Compare this to BlackBerry, once the darling of the corporate crowd. Was a belief in charisma and brand instrumental in the company’s failure to pull the market in its direction? Blackberry did not really have a “face” the same way Apple did, or Virgin still does.

How much of your change management strategy will rely on personal relationships and charisma? Is it even fair to expect successful deployment to be based on the personality of the change leader? In the world of stand-up comedy, a joke or even an entire act can succeed or fail depending on the style of the person delivering it. There’s something to be observed there. Credibility on the part of the messenger or change agent and acceptance on the part of those accepting change rely a great deal on subjective emotional interpretation.

Not every corporate leader charged with initiating a change either within their department or outside in the world of the public is blessed with a fiery personality or unyielding self-confidence. However, it is essential to point out just how crucial it is for people upon whom change is being foisted, to believe in the person initiating that change. Intelligent project management is vital to the successful deployment of change initiatives, but without a personal connection, the plan will fall upon deaf ears.

Humans need to feel comfortable, they need to feel looked after, and they need to feel optimistic. This has been the backbone of organized religion for millennia and is undoubtedly the backbone of populist politics. The question becomes whether an emotionally charged base of disciples is sufficient to carry the day for any of us involved in organizational change. Mr. Trump and Mr. Ford face challenges in the courts, and corporate change managers face the same type of scrutiny and diligence from boards of directors, shareholders, other levels of management and the rank-and-file.

In the end charisma without substance, speeches without research, and personality without plans may be doomed to stumble or fail. But this statement can also be read in reverse: substance without charisma, research without speeches, and plans without personality may also be doomed to the same level of failure.

But those of us busy focusing on a successful change management initiative must take note of the fact that people love to connect with strong leaders who actively listen to their concerns. It is always best when such attention is genuine, and that it results in tangible, people-focused actions, but the point remains; the majority of stakeholders continues to be ruled primarily by emotion, especially fear. Facts are important, of course, but your investment in the emotional side of change should be sufficient to balance out the logic of your project plan.

King Street Pilot: May I See the Whine List?

Intellectual powerhouses at KitKat showing love to the community. Maybe time to update the website, boys!

Maybe I’m missing something here. How, exactly does the King Street Pilot affect the restaurant business? There are many times I have considered driving into Toronto to dine out or to see a show, and one of the reasons why I think about sticking with my car is because the GO trains are already packed.

Packed! There is always a game on. The Raptors, the Jays, the Maple Leafs, Toronto FC. When there is no game, there is a concert. Big name concerts. Yes, Toronto, we are world class when it comes to the touring superstars. And outside of the mega-acts, there are hundreds of clubs, pubs, and restaurants all offering a great time.

I don’t know if Mr. Ford or Mr. Mammoliti has ever taken an inbound GO train at 6:00 on a Friday or Saturday night, but they are always full. We are a sports and entertainment city. These are people coming in from the ‘burbs to spend their money in the Toronto core. This is not a city that rolls up its sidewalks at 5:00. Not everyone who works in Toronto drives home to huddle in some bedroom community until the Monday morning commute.

OK, so I choose to drive in. Well, guess what, the inbound roads are also packed. Commuting into T.O. along the Parkway or the QEW at 6:00 p.m. is as bad as doing it at 6:00 a.m. Face it. Thousands of people want to get into the city to have fun.

So let’s say I choose to drive in and I want to go to a restaurant in the Theatre district. Maybe I should call ahead to make a reservation? OK, well now the restaurant knows I’m interested. “But wait,” I say, “can you guarantee that I can park directly outside the restaurant?” Of course not. It has always been impossible to park on any downtown city street. That’s why we have parking lots! That’s why GreenP exists! If I want to go downtown, I pull out my app and look for a place to park. There will always be places to park. Even when every outdoor lot turns into a skyscraping condo, there will always be parking spaces in the basement.

So let’s say I haven’t decided where to eat. I want to chance it. This is where the King Street restaurateurs may base part of their argument. “If people can’t drive by, they won’t see us. They won’t stop to get out and buy from us.” Well, welcome to the 21st century, Mr. KitKat and Mr. Fred’s Not Here. Most people don’t make dining decisions on a drive-by. They choose based on one of three items:

  • Proximity/convenience. There are dozens of parking lots within a block or two of every King Street restaurant. Easy, convenient and easily findable on an app.
  • Reputation/recommendation. If your food and service are great, people will talk.
  • Social media/apps. Most consumers use their phones for everything, and that includes deciding where to go and eat. Along with great food and service, a restaurant today needs a top-tier website – mobile friendly and filled with detail to attract new customers. That’s the new version of the drive-by, spontaneous choice. People will search for you, and they will find you.

Hey! Here’s another idea. Instead of giving your city and your customers the finger, why not do promotion instead. Something like “Welcome to the King Street Pilot. Here’s a $5 discount or a free appetizer! Come back! Tell your friends!”

The restaurant business is tough, no question. Rents are high, and margins are thin. Competition is fierce. But success does not come from whining. It comes from innovating; moving with the times;  delivering consistently pleasing customer experience all the way along the journey, from the first notion of “where shall we go out to eat tonight” all the way through to the time the meal becomes a pleasant memory and the subject of a recommendation to friends.

Captain John’s. The vodka martini was actually vermouth soup. My bad for ordering an exotic cocktail.

There was once a restaurant called Captain John’s that sat at the foot of Yonge Street. Anyone who ever dined there knows its only redeeming culinary value was that it was a ship (kind of). For decades it used that novelty alone to lure tourists in from neighboring hotels. They would never come back. But that was OK. Until, of course, the restaurant got towed away for non-payment of taxes. If that’s what the King Street restaurateurs want to do, sucker in the tourists for a one-off, then perhaps they should flip the bird at the new high-rise hotels that surround them, each of which has its own inbuilt entertainment section to keep those people close.

To the smart guys who think that an extended middle finger will win back customers, I suggest you look at your business model instead. If you are an attractive place to eat, people will show up regardless how they get there.

Planning for a Successful Vacation

Show Notes From CoolTimeLife Podcast Episode 15

Note – this podcast was originally aired as a longer, one hour episode (Episode 1). We have been cutting them up and re-releasing seleted parts to make them easier to listen to (i.e. shorter).

To listen to this podcast, visit my Blubrry page here.

To subscribe to the series, click here.

Vacations – we all dream about them, but are they being put to the best use? Half of the therapeutic value of a vacation comes from planning – not just where you want to go, but planning the days leading up to departure date as well as your return to work after it’s done. If you do these right, your vacation will be doubly beneficial.

The Guardian article that I referred to was written by Jana Kasperkevic and can be found here.

Jana Kasperkevic in The Guardian writes:

In the U.S, the number of unused vacation days in the US recently was 169 million days, equivalent to $52.4bn in lost benefits. The reason for this, she writes, is that many employees are afraid to take it, while others just don’t get any at all, in fact she points out that only about 77% of Americans working for privately owned companies got paid vacation days. Those who choose not to go fear the face time problem, and they also feel that too much work will pile up while they are gone and they will be so stressed when they return that time off won’t be worth it.”

There are three distinct ways in which vacations work as a productivity and time management tool:

  • The most obvious is the vacation itself. It is supposed to be a time when you let go of all of the stresses and pressures of the working year and do the things you really want to do. Most people find the first three days or so to be a major period of transition as they catch up on all the sleep they have missed, and actually gear down from the pace of business. After those first few days, the restorative effects of the vacation start to take shape, and like so many other areas of life, this does not exist only in the mind. It has profound effects on the body, particularly the immune system, as you start to actually feel relaxed and feel good.
  • There is also the anticipation of a vacation to consider. If you find yourself in a stressful work situation, putting in extra hours and dealing with crisis after crisis, one of the best ways of mitigating the stress of that moment is to look forward to a break or vacation on the horizon – this is the light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing there is an end in sight has both a motivating and calming effect on your mind and body.
  • Third, there’s the memory of the vacation. Once you have had some time off, hopefully you have done something great with that time, those pleasant memories of the activities – or just the rest – will stay with you forever. Those are good memories, and feeling good always has long term physiological rewards. As the old expression goes, no one on their deathbed ever wishes they had spent more time at the office. Great memories flood your brain with endorphins. They make you feel good, and this too serves as insulation against the stressors of the workday.

HOW CAN YOU PREPARE FOR A VACATION?

Your vacation should be treated as one of the most important parts of your job, because that’s just what it is. Consequently, vacation days must be defended if year-round productivity and achievement are your goals. This means you must take the time to plan your vacation period carefully to help ensure a smooth, stress-free departure and a smooth, stress-free return.

First, plan ahead to avoid that pre-vacation crunch. The last few days at the office before a vacation can actually be more stressful than usual, because it seems that all the work that you would have done if you were not going on vacation becomes immediate top-priority. Everyone around you feels you absolutely must get it all finished before your departure. Start planning your departure a few weeks or months before the actual date, and you can influence the timelines of your projects, meetings, and other office events.

Draw a protective barrier around the period of your vacation, especially including the ten business days leading up to it and the ten immediately following it. Make sure those days before your vacation are carefully planned, so that you can hand off responsibilities to others and wrap up your projects. The days preceding a vacation should not be just business as usual for you. They should be about winding down and handing off. If you try to keep on working on your normal tasks at your normal pace on these days, you will simply generate more stress and overwork than the holiday could possibly alleviate.

Plan your return before you leave. Though most people don’t want to even think about their return to work as they start their holiday, a smooth return will help to ease the stress of stepping back into the rat race. The day of your return should not include any meetings. It should be a transition day, in which time is given over to catching up on the events that happened during your absence, returning returning calls and emails, updating your agenda, and getting back up to speed.

Why is this so important? Because too many people simply return to the office and hit the ground running, trying to immediately regain the pace they were at when they left. They return straight away to the stress levels and pressures that they left behind, erasing much of the therapeutic benefits that a vacation brings. Remember: your vacation is a tool for relaxation and rebuilding. It is part of your job. You benefit, your family benefits, and your company benefits. Ease your way back into the momentum of work, just like a runner warming up before a marathon, and you will be better prepared to handle it. Start planning your next vacation immediately.

ISVs and Future Proofing Your Payment Integration

Here is an excerpt from a blog post I wrote this week for the payment processor Clearent.

When a consumer walks into a store or browses an online ecommerce site, very little thought is given over to the “paying” part until the time comes. At that moment, a fast and convenient point-of-sale or checkout experience helps create a positive memory, raising the loyalty factor a little bit. But a less-than-ideal transaction, caused by long lines, a failed tap, or a shopping cart page that crashes and burns, steers the shopper to the competition. No one has time to wait for a reboot or to listen to apologies.

The expectation and the requirement are that the payment system be up-to-date. For that to happen, the merchant and its ISV must be future-proof. What’s the best way to future-proof something as complex as payment integration?  The answer is right in front of you, in the apps inside your phone and your tablet.

To learn more, visit our most recent blog, “ISVs and Future Proofing Your Payment Integration” available right now at CloudTweaks: go to https://cloudtweaks.com/2017/12/isvs-proofing-payment-integration/

How to Buy and Hold Bitcoin

Show Notes From CoolTimeLife Podcast Episode 15

Everyone wants to know about Bitcoin these days. It continues to defy the odds and the pundits to keep climbing ever higher. Do you feel you’re missing out? Well, it might too late to get in on the ground floor with Bitcoin, but it’s not too late to start understanding how to buy it and how to hold onto it. There are many more cryptocurrencies out there as well. In this short ten-minute podcast, I talk about how to buy bitcoins, and the difference between wallets and exchanges.

  • To listen to the podcast, visit my Blubrry page here.
  • Check out my professional blog posts dealing with Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies (I hate that term!) and blockchain technologies at the investment and wealth website ValueWalk.com.
  • Choose a Wallet by checking out the selection at Bitcoin.org.
  • Check out some useful exchanges for buying and holding Bitcoin and other currencies. Be sure to do your homework first, to ensure the rates and terms of any exchange match your requirements.
  • A great review of Canadian Bitcoin exchanges is available at Coinforum.ca.
  • Great resources for learning about Bitcoin include

Bitcoin and crypto investment is risky and volatile, and really requires your daily attention. Don’t forget I am always available to speak to your group or association on how to understand cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. Check out my speaker page for more details.

The Shift from Monolithic to Microservices: What It Means for CTOs.

The shift in application development strategies is moving from monolithic design to isolated and resilient components known as microservices. As a result, applications that were designed with platform entanglements such as database and messaging layers have become more complex and costly to operate and maintain. This provides new challenges to CTOs, who must stay aware of the most dynamic, cost-efficient, and secure methods of managing their company’s data, while navigating the inexorable slide toward a microservices economy.

Mike D. Kail, CTO of Security-as-a-Service firm Cybric.io, points out that “with the rise in popularity of Docker Containers, there is an associated belief amongst many that by simply moving an application to leverage containers instead of virtual machines or bare metal, that you then get microservices by default.” But, he says, “that is certainly not true.” Microservices is an architectural pattern, and containers can be part of the technology using that pattern, but containers remain a “thing” while “microservices” is still a “notion.” This pattern can be used to either re-factor an existing application, or more easily leveraged for greenfield initiatives.

Central to the popularity of microservices is the ability to overwrite or replace an individual component without taking down the entire application, leading to less downtime and faster deployment or redeployment of software into an operating environment. Immutable infrastructure also helps with overall security as an APT can be rapidly mitigated by “refreshing the deployment”. This is also a concept shared by microservices – a modular and agile codebase, each part maintained by individual teams.

Microservices is an approach that is still evolving. It is a process being spearheaded by some of the biggest players in the business, like Walmart, Amazon, and Netflix. It is a technological ideal intended to ensure an organization’s ongoing agility and flexibility. This in turn allows faster and more intelligent response to immediate market demands like volume spikes in online shopping or movie watching.

Microservices need not be small, as the term “micro” might imply, but each service is dedicated to a single task or process. This allows for the components to be taken offline and edited, rebuilt, or replaced, without having to take an entire application down with it. This in turn allows for improvement on the fly, with less scheduled downtime, which leads to better business continuity.

The switch away from monolithic applications to collections of compartmentalized or containerized components seems to offer a much more practical approach to managing application development. They can be scaled separately and deployed as needed. They can be designed and programmed separately using different platforms or languages. And testing becomes more affordable, targeted, and frequent.

So What Problems Do Microservices Pose?

According to JP Morgenthal, Managing Editor of Microservices Journal, as applications get decomposed into microservices there arises a range of challenges around managing the sprawl. “In short,” he says, “no one knows the whole picture. They only know what’s wrong with their part.”

He points out that the previous generation of monolithic applications were expensive to maintain because of the high degree of entanglement of the components. Changes required more complex releases and longer testing cycles, yet at the same time, their design fostered simpler operation using fewer components.

“But as we move to polyglot microservices that leverage existing cloud services and are much more elemental, we still see an increase in the number and types of things that impact applications. This in turn increases complexity on the operations of these applications.”

What’s the Diagnosis?

Morgenthal highlights a need for greater involvement of developers in the cycle, specifically, full stack engineers and site reliability engineers. “The factors and attributes associated with design of microservices further increases complexity due to the way data management changes and the nature of discrete transactions.”

Wanted: A New Approach for CTOs in Managing Microservices

The very thing that makes microservices a more practical application development practice – compartmentalization – leads to an incomplete management perspective. “There is now a more urgent need for end-to-end management – something that has never truly existed. We need to break down the silos between organizations and departments, and we need to move from reactive to proactive. This would be the nirvana of modern applications management,” says Morgenthal.

This puts the role of the CTO in a new, indispensable light, as someone who must take complete end-to-end ownership of an application’s life cycle, encourage communication, and understanding across all teams and timelines involved, and be capable of knowing the entire process.

Mike D. Kail of Cybric.io, himself a CTO, adds more. He states, “I believe that the role of the CTO is more relevant today than ever. As with Digital Transformation, every company is becoming a technology company. The modern-day CTO needs to have the technical chops to drive the overall product/platform vision internally and the soft skills and business acumen to drive outward facing initiatives as well as communicate effectively and clearly with the other C-suite peers.”

Overall, the challenge of establishing full end-to-end management of microservices resembles the typical left-brain/right-brain dynamic of a living corporate entity. The logical processes of developing and refining a highly versatile and compartmentalized application need to be balanced with a refined approach to human communication within IT-Ops, upwards to senior management, and outwards to those who will ultimately benefit from it. This requires a blend of political acumen and technological know-how, something that will make CTOs more visible and indispensable as the microservices trend continues to expand.

Labor Day – Bitcoin and Ethereum drop, China bans ICOs

I write for the finance and investment website ValueWalk. My post entitled What’s Behind The Labor Day Bitcoin, Ethereum Price Fall? is now online. Here is an excerpt:

The PBoC statement slammed the brakes on a large number of ongoing ICO projects in China, causing widespread consternation among investors who urged their clients and colleagues to sell quickly. This contributed substantially to the ongoing drop in Bitcoin and Ethereum Prices. The joint statement also said that “Individuals and organizations that have completed ICO fundraisings should make arrangements to return funds.”

The ruling does not prevent Chinese investors from participating in offshore ICOs, however.

To add further panic and confusion, the statement intimated that cryptocurrencies themselves may become illegal, since they are “not issued by the monetary authorities… do not have legal status equivalent to money, and can not [sic] and should not be circulated as a currency in the market use.”  Others have interpreted this statement as not pointing to a complete ban, but a great deal of uncertainty remains.

To read more, please click here.

I See A Black Moon Rising: Crypto Tokens and the Future of Investment

I write for the finance and investment website ValueWalk. My post entitled I See a Black Moon Rising is now online. Here is an excerpt:

When companies launch their ICO, they issue crypto tokens in exchange for investment cash. The tokens are built on top of the blockchain platform, and their owners can trade them as they wish.

Sergey Vasin, Chief Investment Officer of Blackmoon points out, “Tokenized funds are more cost-efficient thanks to lower infrastructure and setup costs…This economy is transmitted to investors in the form of higher net return. For the cherry on top, fund tokens are also immediately tradable.”

This new economy gives rise to two major opportunities. First, the token-based investment process should be more transparent and auditable due to its blockchain roots. Secondly, this improved “open book” approach offers the potential to expand the market beyond cryptocurrencies and incorporate fiat currency into the portfolio.

To read more, please click here.