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Meetings Make You Dumber 207

Maximum Prophet writes "Robert Heinlein once said that the committee was the only life form in the universe with three or more bellies and no brain. MSNBC reports that his statement may have some statistical truth to it. Researchers are finding that meetings are actually bad places to be creative. You're not actually 'dumber' when you're in the meeting, just more likely to lose your creative edge. Studies have now shown that, as collaborative primates, the more often a possibility is mentioned the more likely the group is to go along with it. Individuals placed by themselves were more likely to come up with imaginative alternatives to products, for example."
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Meetings Make You Dumber

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 23, 2007 @02:41PM (#18125632)

    The point of the article wasn't that meetings are bad. The point was that group think at meetings is bad. The example they gave was that if people go off and develop a list of ideas on their own, the combined list of ideas is longer than if people develop a list of ideas together in the group.

    There are two points that are important here. First, a group of people is likely to develop more ideas than a single person regardless of whether the group develops the ideas together or separately. Second, when it comes to choosing one idea from the list of many possible ideas, a well organized group is going to make a better choice than a single individual. In fact, the biggest problem in a poorly run group is that one person makes all the decisions so it is equivalent to a single individual make the choice.

    That was basically the point of the article: for a group to be effective it needs to be organized to allow everyone in the group to have input.

  • by rbanzai ( 596355 ) on Friday February 23, 2007 @02:46PM (#18125736)
    Meetings by themselves don't have problems. It's meetings that are flawed.

    1. Meetings that should never have been held. They serve no real purpose.
    2. Meetings with no structure, and no one to lead them
    3. Meetings where there is an agenda but no one follows it and no one guides it
    4. Meetings that run overtime due to mismanagement and no one is willing to conclude it.
    5. Meetings that start late because there is no respect for the time of the attendees.

    These are just some of the things that make me dread meetings. Over the last 6 years out of the many meetings I've been obliged to attend maybe five were really useful.
  • by skorch ( 906936 ) on Friday February 23, 2007 @02:55PM (#18125880)
    While I certainly agree with the general conclusions drawn in the article about large groups or meetings in the traditional sense, I find that a single person working alone can sometimes also be fairly unable to come up with new ideas due to working from only a single perspective. Unless of course they meant have these people working alone for the brainstorming, and then have them come together and pick the best ideas and implementations from the bunch.

    I think there may be a certain critical mass where enough (creative) people are in the room to come up with ideas from different perspectives, and enough cooperation and teamwork is in the room for the best ideas to rise above the ones that are simply said with the most volume and frequency. Of course I think the likelihood of getting the right sorts of people together with the right amount of self-awareness and ego to be able to admit when they don't have the best idea, is probably nothing short of a minor miracle for a company. I know there are people with whome we are more creative as a team than separately, but that is due to our experience and already established compatibility. The chances of us ever finding ourselves in the same company at this point are pretty slim.

    Certainly the groups one finds in a typical office meeting are not the slick and well-tuned creative machines that me and my friends have developed on our own, and certainly those sorts of meetings are the bane of all intelligent and productive people's corporate existences.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 23, 2007 @03:41PM (#18126564)
    Unsurprisingly, both the Slashdot and TFA headlines are misleading. What the article really says is the whole idea of a brainstorming session is, to be blunt, bullshit. This isn't classic groupthink, per se, which has more to do with an overemphasis on agreement and congeniality squelching dissent in teams, leading to false consensus. Instead, our evolutionary heritage of social behavior means that we're more likely to discard our own ideas in favor of anothers, especially if that other is someone we look up to or perceive as a leader. So in a group situation, once a few ideas are thrown out it's hard to get any further new ideas because people will self censor themselves as "dumb," or worse not even consider anything else because they lose the thread in favor of paying attention to what's on the table. Hence, brainstorming is a complete waste of time.

    A better solution is to procede in rounds, where people do their creative thinking alone, then meet to coalate ideas, then go back off to perform creative synthesis on this new set of ideas alone, and so forth. Of course you still have to deal with groupthink when it eventually comes time to evualate competing options and select winners, but that's really a seperate issue with its own set of pitfalls.
  • by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Friday February 23, 2007 @03:54PM (#18126738) Homepage
    Which meetings? For which purpose? Are you developing a new product? Are you in an IT team producing a support document for users? Are you a research scientist trying to track the work of your assistants, or talking with investors? Are you part of a legal team?

    I know there's an IT and/or software development/engineering lens through which a lot of Slashdotters view the world. But many of the assumptions don't migrate to other contexts well. A receptionist, an IT tech, an industrial designer, and a financial analyst all have very different relationships to meetings, information, and creativity.

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