A recent research study reveals what most of us have feared since times immemorial – meetings make us dumber than a piece of retarded sponge. Allow me a few nonsensical words (about 450) to reminisce a bit, before I dazzle you with the findings of the research study.
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It was 17 years ago when I was first socked on the nose by the corporate beast called Meetings. A wet-behind-the ears rookie and an incredibly arrogant management trainee, just 6 weeks into my first job, I was dragged into a cross-functional meeting in a large, supremely un-aesthetic, mind-numbingly, tasteless conference room. To make the ambience even less encouraging, the carpet stank more than a bunch of nervous skunks, having being recently shampooed. It was a Monday morning, if I recall correctly, and a gorgeous June morning at that, in Bangalore – a perfect day for multi-shirking about to be put to waste by this unscheduled interruption. I had planned a few market visits and competition-mapping surveys that day, if you know what I mean.
Duly impressed by the designations, ties, sarees and a couple of suits in the room, I waited with bated breath to be swept away by the collective IQ, pregnant with blue-blooded Management insights flowing through that room that day.
What followed, as most of you would have experienced in your respective careers, was a stultifying expectation-deflating disaster.
Agenda: Improving profitability
Intellectual autoeroticism of a corporate kind is what followed, wherein the men rambled, the women babbled and we, the rookies, were flies on the wall with sadistic thoughts inside our heads. Within 3 hours the room – walls, ties, sarees, empty chinaware atop shiny mahogany, white-boards, et cetera – reached a consensus on the following:
1) Increase revenues – No clue how, no clue by how much, no clue by when! New markets?
2) Boost margins – Price-hikes in select categories. Hmmmm…. that was easy!
3) Rationalize costs – Do we need to spend all that money on fancy packaging? How about if we re-negotiate the rates with the logistics provider? Wow, so many alternatives!
4) Form core committees to anchor initiatives on each of the above 3 BGO’s (Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious). My name went on the “Boost Margins” list. I swear by God- the concept and not the being- that the committees functioned a tad longer than what I privately wagered with myself. About two months.
Before they were unceremoniously disbanded, the Leadership Team having taken collective fancy to some other corporate paradigm. Am not sure, but I think they subsequently took to using words like Disruptive Innovation – which sounded immensely sexier, and were harder to decipher by the ignorant yet arrogant multitude, than merely Improving Profitability!
Downright humble as it sounds, it would have taken us rookies about three seconds to put those incredibly helpful solutions down! That too, without having to casually carpet-bomb hapless others with names like Porter, Prahalad, Drucker and Kotler along the way. Imagine the man-hours saved, which all of us could have then productively utilized in some gigantic shirking and free cups of coffee in the cafeteria discussing weekend plans (5 days away).
I travelled some distance over the next 15 years, strutting around in my corporate cage, before hitting the self-eject button to pursue a life less un-examined. To be honest, I extracted my revenge before bailing out. As my business card became weightier, a completely natural and unintended phenomenon as one climbs down the corporate ladder, I resorted to corporate sadism and called for the occasional meeting myself. Ha! Justice!
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Turns out, the sneaking suspicion about meetings that has been gnawing at my Prefrontal Cortex and Amygdala for 17 years, has been recently validated by a Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute study. You know, those research studies with a horrendously small sample-size and hence low on statistical significance? Yes, the very same! They are incredibly popular – I see people using those research studies all the time to hawk their biases and sell their intellectual, tangible, intangible or moral wares.
Researchers have proved what we have known all along – we are less intelligent in groups than on our own. If that is not bad enough, the findings further hint at the annoying fact that when we are with others who we think are cleverer than us, we respond by becoming even more stupid than we are normally.
Lucy Kellaway, a columnist I admire unabashedly, wrote in a recent column in FT, “The researchers got 70 students together and tested their IQs (all of which were quite high, as it happens) in normal fashion. Then they put them in small groups and gave them another test, telling them between each question how they were faring relative to others in the group. They found that all the students’ scores were lower in the group test than in the individual one, but the IQs of the poorer performers were sharply lower. Those whose IQs fell the most were mainly – surprise, surprise – female.”
What do you think? Are meetings, generally, just a glorified waste of time? Do IQ levels really dip to levels which don’t even register on a Richter Scale, when 10 people get inside a corporate conference-room or a board-room? Can more be accomplished by sometimes working alone at your desk and getting on with it, the occasional picking of a few brains around, notwithstanding? Do we call for more meetings than is absolutely necessary?