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.


CoolTimeLife Podcast Episode 2 (Attention) Show Notes

Episode 2 (January 30, 2017): Paying attention to the concept of attention, specifically: understanding and capitalizing on your own attention span as well as that of other people; techniques for getting people’s full attention in emails and meetings; standing to attention: why standing and moving around is good for your health;  memory tricks: how to remember people’s names before your short attention span lets go of them.

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It might seem rude. But maybe they are…

  • Taking notes. Digital notes are much easier to tag and search for.
  • Fact-checking or retrieving useful info or documents to keep the meeting on track
  • Putting out an external fire via email or chat. It’s eiter this or skip the meeting
  • Doodling / playing Angry Birds. Most people need to move around. We’re not allowed to fidget, so often, doodling is the next best thing

If an organization is to stay “old-school” and require that everyone turn off their devices and face-forward, then this needs to be communicated as “meeting policy,” and not be merely expected or assumed. Employees today make their own assumptions.

On the flip side, if a company wants to play it cool by allowing people to bring and use whatever devices they desire into a meeting, a similar policy must be developed and broadcast, not only to ensure these technically-inclined people actually do agree to pay attention and to produce the required results by the end of the day, but also to inform those who may not share this technological enthusiasm, that bringing devices into a meeting is not rude anti-social behavior, but is in fact the new norm.

In both cases it is essential that people on both sides of the ideological fence are made aware of whatever rules the company decides upon. Rude behavior after all can best be defined by what it is not: it is behavior that does not align with social convention. But unless that convention is explicitly defined and universally recognized, there is nothing for people to refer to.


The 8-hour day does not work. This is why we have the water cooler and the cigarette break or coffee shop run. The reality is, no-one can do 8 hours of work in 8 hours.

What is your attention span like? Mine is about 12 minutes before I need a Twitter break. People have a professional obligation to act responsibly, of course, and to return to their tasks after the break. The point is to allow people to work according to the way their mind and body work best.

Are you a company whose products or services might tie in to productivity, life, technology or work? We would love to have you on board to help cover the costs of production. Please use our “Contact Us” form to get in touch.


  • Subject lines – summarize your entire message in 12 words or less
  • Include one message per email.
  • The first 1st paragraph should say all that needs to be said
  • Keep your email short enough so that the opening and close are visible on the same screen. This encourages people to read.
  • Use a P.S. (postscript) as a place to repeat your message or call to action. The human eye is attractoed to graphic elements like post scripts

Resources I mention in this segment are collaborative workspaces, which I hope will replace most email in future years. These include:

Examples of standing desk furniture:

Storkstand – this is what a Storkstand looks like.


Stirworks offers a full sizes standing desk.


To remember people’s names, use the act of shaking hands as a cue to start up the silent technique of word association. Find something about the person – their hairstyle, clothing or resemblance to a celebrity or friend – and connect that phonetically or visually to their name/

So there you have it, our podcast on attention. I hope it caught yours. Let me know by leaving a message on our comments form at the bottom of the MY PODCAST page.

Mastering Email and Remembering Names: A Matter of Conscious Choice


Many studies have been done over the years to observe how our brains react when interrupted by stimuli such as incoming emails, texts and phone calls. In short, the nutrients that are distributed around the brain to fuel the thought process are all summoned instantly to the amygdala for preparation for fight-or-flight. We live in a body design that is over 50,000 years old. Although on a surface level we might not find an actual email genuinely threatening, on a physiological level the stimulus represents an unknown, and as such all resources are forced to “drop what they are doing” and go immediately to the fight-or-flight center. It’s much like an emergency evacuation of a building.

Once the email is read and dealt with, the crisis is considered to be over and the nutrients are allowed to return to work. But with the crisis abated, they return to their “work zones” in due time, taking between five and ten minutes to get there.


As illustrated in the graph above, even for an email that takes three minutes to answer –it takes many minutes to return to the level of concentration we had prior to the interruption. This means that most people – you, me and our co-workers – are all working at a diminished level of focus and capacity during this time. And this happens over and over again throughout the entire day. In fact, the act of answering emails, texts and interruptions as they happen pretty much guarantees a full day of sub-par performance. After all, the fuel your brain needs to do its work is spending most of its time away from where it needs to be.

The solution is very straightforward. Tasks should only be addressed in a conscious manner, not a reactive one. When you choose consciously to answer emails, especially a group of them at once, let’s say at 10:30 a.m. rather than the instant they arrive, then you move into the email-responding situation without instinctive urgency. The nutrients in your brain are not taken by surprise and they are not sent scurrying along to the amygdala. Instead, you take on the task by coolly, choice.

It’s similar to the problem that happens when people forget names moments after having been introduced to someone. This happens because at the very moment of shaking hands, we do not need a conscious mechanism for collecting and storing the data, so the name we have just heard vanishes off into space. However, a seasoned “people greeter”, someone whose job it is to meet a lot of people and talk to them – a campaigning politician, for example, or a really good sales rep or executive can easily work a room, remembering up to thirty names simply through conscious memorization and a little word association. They choose to memorize. They are not being taken by surprise. It’s all a matter of conscious choice.

An example. I am introduced to Wendy. As I shake hands with her, I notice she has long hair, swept back into a ponytail. I think of hair being swept back on a windy day. The words “windy” and “wendy” have a similar sound. An association. I am also introduced to Martin, whose eyebrows resemble those of director Martin Scorsese. That’s an easy association. These will allow you to use the most valuable word in any conversation: a person’s own name.

Now, back to the email problem.

“Yes, but I need to answer my emails the moment they come in.”

This is a standard pushback to the idea of returning emails at scheduled times. “The world doesn’t work like that,” people say, “emails are part of my job.  If people have to wait around until I decide to respond to my emails, nothing will get done.”  Another response is, “I feel better clearing my inbox. It de-stresses me to get rid of the emails as they come in.”

I can agree with all of these statements. If your job is so tied to quick emails replies that to delay responding would cause harm, then respond! If replying to messages makes you feel better, then by all means, reply, because feeling good, feeling in control, is a key element of the Cool-Time philosophy. In short, if you prefer to answer your emails the moment they come in, then do so. But remember the focus-loss that is described immediately above still happens.

If you choose to answer email on an ad-hoc basis, I recommend you calculate the expected duration of a task, and add the expected time needed to deal with the volume of email to that task, and realistically plan that as an event.

For example, if you have a report that should take an hour to create, and you can expect to have to spend an additional thirty minutes replying to messages, you would be wise to block off ninety minutes for this task to get it done, as this will factor in the time required to step away and deal with emails.

The danger lies in believing you can get a one-hour task done in one hour if you still allow yourself time to deal with interruptions.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

Why Must Digital Audio Book Titles Expire?

Listening to audiobooks is a pastime enjoyed by many. It has never been more practical, given the range of wireless devices that an individual can now use. We are no longer tied to the CD drive in home stereos and cars. They re-open the universe of the written word to people of all ages, most of whom are too time constrained to invest in an actual book, but who can easily delve into a chapter or two while commuting or exercising.

One would think this renaissance, in which authors’ works are converted to wireless, professionally narrated pieces of immediately accessible art, would be embraced by book publishers as an opportunity to balance the effects that digital media has had on traditional bookstores.

Yet, for public access, draconian and seemingly archaic licensing laws continue to exist.

Case in point: I recently downloaded an audiobook from my local library, which subscribes to a national downloading service. The book arrived inside my phone’s app within seconds, and soon thereafter I was enjoying the title, listening to it through my car’s Bluetooth connection as I drove. Ah, the wonders of the wireless world.

Books become Pumpkins

Unfortunately, the publishers who made this title available to me through the library, allowed me only one week to listen to it before the licence expired. So exactly one week later, while I was still barely halfway through the book, the file had turned back into a literary pumpkin, on the outside of which was a sternly worded message reminding me to delete the now unplayable file from my phone’s memory.

My question is “why?” Why must there be such a short expiry period on a digital property? Why should there be an expiry date at all? I understand, if you borrow a book from a library, then no-one else can access that book until you return it. But this is the digital age, people! Digital files can be replicated infinitely with no adverse effect on the original.

On hold? For What?

Oh yes. And then there is the HOLD. There was another book that I was interested in downloading, but it was on hold. On hold? For what? There’s nothing unique to hold!

I understand that publishing companies are in the business of licencing books, ostensibly to guarantee revenue for their authors. I know this first hand, being a published author myself. I know also, that, as with all artists, we sit at the bottom of a very large inverted pyramid, and tend to get paid after all the middlemen have taken their share. Hmmm. Could that have something to do with it?

The point is, libraries, booksellers and book publishing companies are looking to protect their revenue streams amid an ocean of digitally accessible everything. But does withholding a title actually generate the type of scarcity that will guarantee a queue of patient, obedient title-borrowers? Especially when some enterprising individual might see fit to upload the entire audio track to YouTube so that everyone can listen to it without delay?

Or is their protectionism a holdover from a pre-digital age, in which supply and demand could actually be controlled by publishers?

Monetize the digital marketplace

My feeling, as both an author and as an avid listener of audiobooks, is that there is more to be gained from changing the model: make library titles infinitely available. Guarantee their quality. Make your free product better than the knock offs, and capitalize on spin-off activities, such as directing happy listeners to purchase related titles through sites like iTunes. Heck, I would be happy even to put up with a sponsorship, such as “This audiobook is being brought to you by ABC company.” Sponsorships could easily be rotated – such is the nature of digital media. It is much easier to modify than, say, typeset ink.

Ultimately I feel the publishing industry has much more to gain by adopting a more modern approach to monetizing the omni-channel marketplace than the current dusty old licencing program. Maybe they have started to do so, but it certainly does not seem to be working at the library. If there was ever a perfect “try-before-you-buy” environment, the national library system certainly would fit the bill, and would continue to bolster the existence of publishers and libraries alike.

Who Is Your Emergency Contact Point?

Emergencies such as natural disasters, and the human-made kind, happen all the time, but usually somewhere else. Many of us grow a little complacent when it comes to preparedness, since to even think of a bad thing happening touches our superstitious sides and seems to invite the event into our lives. But floods, earthquakes, power failures and civil unrest will continue, and will likely escalate. There are many things to consider in terms of surviving such a calamity, but two questions that absolutely have to be asked is, “who is my emergency contact person?” and “how will I reach this person?”

We have grown very comfortable with carrying a smartphone with us everywhere, but what if it got lost or broken? Or what if the cell system broke down? How would you reach someone then? I would have a hard time remembering anyone’s actual phone number, since I so seldom actually enter numbers anymore.  Everything is pre-set and one-touch. Most people I ask feel the same.

That’s why it is so important to identify and Emergency Contact Point (ECP). Assign a member of your family, or a trusted neighbor to be your local ECP, and choose a second person – someone who lives at least 100 miles away, to be your long-distance ECP. Both of these people should be someone who is most likely to be available, and will be able to relay messages in case other channels fail.

In the event of a power or cell network blackout, you may still be able to make a call from a payphone or a land-line. In cases of emergency – any situation in which direct connection with family members is no longer possible – everyone should know to call in to the ECP. This person can take messages from each family member as they call in, and then relay them back out. It’s a central communications point.

Consider also having a social media place or code, for example a Twitter account or FaceBook page that could be used as a rallying point for messages, assuming you can get on to the Internet.

The key point here is to set this up in advance. Choose your ECPs and your social media strategy, and inform everyone in your family how to use them. Yes, it seems dorky and tedious, but it can save many hours or days of worry and wasted effort should things fail in a big way.


The Need for Experienced Cloud Security Professionals

My blog post for cloud security firm (ISC)2 , entitled, Competing Cloud Security Demands Call For Credentialed Professionals is available for review at Based on interviews with security experts, the post discusses why it is critical that cloud security experts come with years of experience to handle the challenges of security online.  Click here to read.


Uber’s Surge Pricing Model And Free Market Economics

This blog post, written for KPMG , entitled, The Surge Pricing Model And Free Market Economics is available for review at This post proposes that the dynamic nature of pricing under the Uber model might work in surprising ways for B2B purchasers who do not update their procurement processes.  Click here to read.


The Blended Mindset

This blog post, written for HP’s Business Value Exchange , entitled, The Blended Mindset is available for review at This post proposes that people need to maximize their human skills such as creativity and relationship to match their technological abilities.  Click here to read.


The Bitcoin-Blockchain Centerless Economy

This blog post, written for HP’s Business Value Exchange , entitled The ‘Centerless’ Economy is available for review at The post proposes that the engine behind BitCoin, called the BlockChain, will have a huge impact on every area of life that involves transactions and records – which means pretty much everything. Click here to read.