How not to have a meeting

“I can’t wait for the next meeting, this is so exciting”

If you have ever heard someone say that then you are very rare. 

“Wasted time in meetings costs the UK economy £26 billion”

This was the headline of a 2012 piece of research from Epson supported by Cebr (source:

Other facts that it revealed were:

  • 2 hours 39 minutes: the number of hours workers feel are wasted in meetings during an average week
  • 49 minutes: the number of wasted minutes in meetings not made up for later
  • 10 hours or over: the amount of time one in five senior managers and directors say they spend in meetings per week
  • 11 minutes: the average amount of time it takes for people’s attention to drift in a meeting
  • Respondents thought that an average of 20 minutes was wasted in every meeting they attended 

I read once that the ego of a person calling a meeting dictates the number of people invited.

We would all agree that ideally a meeting leaves the participants with more energy, clarity and enthusiasm for what needs to be done than when they walked in.

So why then are they so incredibly painful for most companies?  

Mostly what happens with meetings is that they take place for no other reason than they always have. 

They are used like a blunt object supposedly to achieve a wide array of disparate ends. 

  • Let’s get everyone aligned. We’ll have a meeting.
  • We need to solve this issue, let’s have a meeting.
  • Let’s get it all out in the open so we can deal with it, let’s have a meeting.
  • This change affects everyone, we should meet.
  • Let’s plan to meet in three weeks and take it forward.
  • Should we set up a series of meetings to move this forward?
  • You have a meeting and let me know the outcome
  • And a hundred other reasons people call meetings (what are your favourite lame reasons?).
We have become like corporate zombies going through repeated motions because it has become habit. We have not stopped and thought more strategically about how to get things done. 
To avoid meetings ask yourself or your group the following questions.
  • What is it we want to achieve?
  • Why do we want to do this?
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • What is the best way of involving these people?
  • If a meeting has been suggested, are there alternatives other than a meeting that will be effective?
Following this process eliminates most meetings and moves you forward faster.
If you find yourself staring down the face of an unavoidable meeting, here is a way to ensure that the meeting works better than most. 
  1. Take leadership of the meeting even if you are not the person calling it. Work through the above questions to quickly get focused. 
  2. Decide how much time is needed (it is seldom an hour as Outlook or Google Calendar suggests by default).
  3. Make sure each person arrives at the meeting with their contribution prepared.
  4. If you need more than 30 minutes then most likely you haven’t done 1, 2 and 3 thoroughly enough
  5. Pick a facilitator for the meeting who is not involved in the content. Make it her responsibility to finish on time.
  6. Keep a list of off topic items to be picked up outside of the meeting and don’t get pulled down a rabbit hole when they come up.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon starts every meeting with his executives reading six page memos from each area. His belief, is that the communal reading guarantees undivided attention and by forcing his execs to write down their memo in narrative form , they have to think carefully about what they want to say. This is great practice and will certainly result in more focused and reduced meeting time. 

Wasting time in meetings







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It’s always more complex

At the start of a new project we are always unrealistic about what needs to be done.

The reason for this is that we cannot think about all the steps that are required to create our new offering. The gap between the theoretical project and the actual project is always bigger than we think, and more complex.

Much of the complexity is caused by too much activity or information. When we think strategically about our project we can simplify things by forcing our thinking into a sharp yet detailed picture of the future. This way we focus our minds and keep unneeded items out of the way.

A tool like can help you to sharpen your thinking. By answering a few open questions about what you want, you are quickly presented with a strategy that makes sense to all involved.

If you ask your partners to also complete a 1strategy, in a few minutes you can check that you are all on the same page.

1strategy net to create your strategy on one page





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Be prepared to be wrong

Thinking strategically is about being right about the future, right?

Actually not.

Striving to be right is the biggest blind spot of many strategists. Believing that we can correctly see what lies ahead, we tap into a number of our biases. Overconfidence, anchoring, illusion of control and the Texas sharpshooter fallacy all pull us away from the rational view of the future.

There are more biases but the above should be enough to caution us to expect to falter at least some of the time.

Good strategists always consider being wrong and avoid the temptation of believing too much in their strategies. Paradoxically this makes the strategies better.

Building in scenarios helps us to not be wrong. This is different from being right.

And if you are feeling a little infallible then consider that you would be in good company should you get your strategy wrong:

“The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”
– Clifford Stoll, American author, 1995

“I think it will grow but the vast majority of customers in the foreseeable future will continue to prefer a good, old-fashioned printed and bound book.”
– George Jones, CEO of Borders Group, 2008

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
– Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of the Board of IBM, 1943

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”
– Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929

“Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.”
– Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1889

“How, sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you, excuse me, I have not the time to listen to such nonsense.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte, when told of Robert Fulton’s steamboat, 1800s.

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.”
– Albert Einstein, 1932

Einstein working on the theory of relativity













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A test of your rational thinking

Here is a simple puzzle. Answer it as you are reading without stopping to analyse it. 

A bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

If you followed the instruction you are likely to have come up with the answer of ten cents.

There are no tricks here. This exercise from Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow is a classic example of our fast brain at work. It sees the answer immediately and makes it available to us.

Our slow brain on the other hand takes much longer to reach an answer and is suited for more complex topics.

2 x 2 is a fast brain problem and you can reach the answer of 4 with no effort at all.

17 x 24 on the other hand produces no immediate response and requires our slow brain to engage and figure out the answer.

The challenge which we all face is that our slow brain needs to ask the fast brain to engage and if it thinks it has the answer it jumps in.

In the bat and ball example above, the lure of jumping in was just too much because the answer was so obvious.

Unfortunately the obvious answer was also wrong as the correct answer is in fact $1.05, an answer which requires the slow brain.

Our fast brain is responsible, at least part of the time for jumping to quick irrational answers which the slow brain would figure out, if only we gave it a chance.

Strategic thinking is typically a slow brain activity.

Daniel Kahneman's book thinking fast and slow








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