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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 rbanzai ( 596355 ) on Friday February 23, 2007 @02:49PM (#18125790)
    Perhaps SOME meetings are not meant to be creative, and are just for information sharing but many meetings ARE meant to be creative. Many meetings are intended for problem-solving, for example, and creativity can be quite useful so you don't want to stifle it.

    I work at an ad agency where by definition we have Creative Meetings where creative concepts are going to be brainstormed.

    Meetings are not all simply to seek consensus, etc...
  • by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Friday February 23, 2007 @02:59PM (#18125932)
    Let me recommed the book, "How to Run a Successful Meeting in Half the Time" Time/dp/0671726013/sr=8-7/qid=1172256632/ref=sr_1_ 7/102-8911026-2154546?ie=UTF8&s=books [], It's a quick read, and does have good advice.

    The author gives the an example of a good meeting, the opening of the old TV show, "LA Law", where the lead attorney came in, laid his pocket watch on the table, then asked everyone to bring him up to speed with what they were doing. The pocketwatch was a device to let the audience know that he valued his time. Always, the meeting was over by the first commercial break. If real life corporate meetings could be more like this, I think we'd get a lot more done.
  • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Friday February 23, 2007 @03:11PM (#18126144)
    But the Reality is that most meetings suck, are mis-managed and a waste of time. Why these things are true does not matter. They are and they aren't going to change.

    So, avoid meetings as much as possible. Use email and the telephone and finally, talk to people in their cubicles/offices. Use the one-to-one means of communicating as much as possible. People will give you more information and more SENSITIVE information in person than they will in a group.

    Once you have all of that and you've run through the email/telephone/cubicle cycle a few times, then call a short meeting to make sure that everyone sees everyone else agreeing in public to what they've agreed to.

    Meetings suck. Avoid them.
  • by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Friday February 23, 2007 @03:28PM (#18126358)
    The problem is that in a meeting you are on a social and political stage, however small. It's often not just about what idea is best, but rather whom you're going to support (for reasons that may have nothing to do with the idea being discussed) and how you want the group to perceive you. I know that on more than one occasion I've kept my doubts about a proposal to myself because I didn't want to be perceived as, well, a doubter (which really I am)...
  • by abb3w ( 696381 ) on Friday February 23, 2007 @03:33PM (#18126452) Journal

    Believe it or not, there are workplaces where it is safe to voice opposition as long as you do what you're told once the decision is made.

    The difficulty lies in distinguishing such places from those where, if you say "this won't work because of reasons A, B, and C" before the decision is officially final and your prediction proves right, you're accused of causing the failure because you weren't "a team player behind the project 125 percent" yada yada yada....

    Such places are worth leaving as soon as you see signs of such, even if you weren't the victim. If a project goes ahead when one of your listed reasons is either "that's unethical" or "that's illegal", don't wait for the project to fail before hunting a new job. If your budget can survive it, don't even wait to find a new job before leaving the current one, either. That kind of go-ahead means that the midden has already hit the windmill and the smell has just arrived — and it isn't the only thing headed downwind.

  • by Sj0 ( 472011 ) on Friday February 23, 2007 @03:35PM (#18126472) Journal
    The primary purpose of meetings is to achieve consensus or to efficiently communicate information to the people who need it, not to be creative. The rest of your time on the job is the time to think of ways to effectively solve a problem. A meeting is for taking those ideas and throwing them out there, and seeing whose idea sticks.

    Honestly, if a group of supposedly well-educated people couldn't think of a solution to a problem on their own, multiplying their inability won't magically make 0+0+0=1
  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi&evcircuits,com> on Friday February 23, 2007 @03:40PM (#18126546) Homepage
    I tend to disagree. The Linux kernel and in a lesser degree Apple, but a great (commercial) example is Google all share the following:

    They are not run by a dictator. A dictator tends to stifle progress because his idea is law and that's what's going to happen. I had a manager like that once, he was the CEO and everything he said was a good idea. He also had no clue about anything going on outside his office (kinda like the pointy-haired boss in Dilbert), actually that whole company runs like the Dilbert cartoon including the salesmen and Catbert.

    They actually let people run with their ideas, produce something great and see if it fits in somewhere. If it gives any added value, it gets integrated, otherwise it gets dropped, rehashed or whatever is needed.
  • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Friday February 23, 2007 @04:32PM (#18127218) Homepage Journal
    "But the Reality is that most meetings suck, are mis-managed and a waste of time. Why these things are true does not matter. They are and they aren't going to change."

    I agree. There have been 'crunch' times...where I desperately needed to be let alone, to get code/procedures written...get data out..etc.

    Yet I was constantly being dragged out for, progress reports...amazing I was still able to get it done, but, man, it did nothing but increase the stress level of the few people actually trying to get the work done.

    I've never understood those...and there are lots of them out there, that just seem to LIVE for the meeting. In fact...that just seems to be some people's job description: Call and Attend as many meetings as possible.

    I'm like you in that I've rarely been to a meeting that was actually productive and beneficial.

    I saw a sig. once I really liked "The Romans didn't conquer the known world by having meetings, they did it by killing their enemies"

  • by thoughtlover ( 83833 ) on Friday February 23, 2007 @04:49PM (#18127444)
    "But the Reality is that most meetings suck, are mis-managed and a waste of time. Why these things are true does not matter. They are and they aren't going to change."

    I couldn't have said it better. The truth is that most meetings I've attended, most mandatory, are a waste of time. They are simple management tactics that make their managers think everyone is working as a team, when they usually have no topics for discussion.

    However, I disagree that a meeting of multiple people will invariably lead to a waste of time and make all more dumb just for being involved. Maybe bored, but I guess I can 'escape' with my imagination when I can. Really, some people just collaborate better in-person.

    It's always been my understanding that the greatest fear that people have is talking in front of a large group (like giving a speech) --often, I have found that people will _not_ give their true opinion in a group because of fear. Fear of being chastised or ridiculed in front of your peers usually ensures that people would rather 'go with the flow' rather than 'rock the boat'. Usually, the strongest personalities 'win' at these types of meetings where few challenge contrasting ideas with their own.

    One thing I know is that meetings, called brainstorming sessions, are crucial to some types of businesses. Creative businesses are primary. Many I know in the creative arts are very gregarious and meetings are a time to also relax and get to know others. However, I also worked for a university for many years in IT. There is no need for a weekly meeting that lasts one hour. Most people there didn't like to be in a group, even of their peers. They are loners, like many in that field, who don't like talking to people that much. It's almost like putting the nerd class in this situation is actually physically damaging to them. So, I can see why many could say that meetings are a waste of time, but to make one dumber?

    That quote about committees sounds more Douglas Adams than Robert Heinlein...
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday February 23, 2007 @05:07PM (#18127716)

    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.
    Exactly. Putting multiple eyes on a problem is an effective method of spotting flaws. Since not every idea conceived by an individual is worthy of further pursuit (in fact, probably few are) this sort of cyclical development process works quite well. It requires all participants to leave their agendas and egos at the door.

    Because of this, I find that the most effective meetings are between peers. When the PHBs start attending, productivity goes down.

  • What works for me (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cyberfunkr ( 591238 ) on Friday February 23, 2007 @06:16PM (#18128732)
    Meetings are going to happen. It's really tough to avoid them so you might as well have a plan for when they occur.

    When I am in charge of making a meeting happen I try to use this little trick: Everyone has X amount of time before the meeting, usually in days. At that meeting be ready with 3 solutions to the problem, and rebuttal arguments for why #1 and (hopefully) #2 were mentally scrapped by the time you figured out option #3.

    Now the meeting rolls around and I have say 5 people all ready to go with up to 15 different answers, but before we've even started most of those have been rejected.

    We'll still cover all the solutions so we can weed out duplicates, shoot down people's third choice that someone else already thought of and realized a shop stopper ("...And that's why this idea will work." "Well, it would work, but where are we going to get tights in our size at this time of night?"), and correct any assumptions for people's self-realized blockers. ("At first I thought we could do this, but we need Marketing's help and they're buried." "Actually, Marketing just finished our last major project so we have a few days breathing room to help out.")

    This keeps the "group think" out of the process until later in the process when the playing field has already narrowed down to 2-3 solid ideas.
  • by Bilbo ( 7015 ) on Friday February 23, 2007 @06:51PM (#18129100) Homepage
    Or, my favorite variable is, how big is the meeting? Put two or three people in a room, and you will create significantly more "creative" work than those two or three on their own. Put ten or twenty people in a room, and at any particular point in time, over 75% of them will be half asleep, or thinking about other things.

    The other thing I always say is, "There should be a law against meetings longer than an hour."

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