How to fix meetings: go long and short

People mostly hate meetings. They can be enormous time sinks and boring, especially if Powerpoints are involved, and as Farhad Manjoo observed last week, the technologists have built tools that have changed a great deal of what goes on in business, but they haven’t really fixed meetings. He spoke with some technologists, like Evernote CEO Phil Libin, who offered this,

The concentrated, beating heart of most stupidity in the world is in meetings. If we want to punch at stupidity in the most effective way possible, we’ve got to tackle making meetings less stupid.

Like Jeff Bezos, Libin has made the anti-Powerpoint vow, and meetings at Evernote have to be preceded by a long-form agenda, with complete sentences or paragraphs, all of course shared in Evernote. And during the meeting, people are taking notes, and later on those notes are distributed. Evernote has introduced a presentation mode (premium feature) where a folder of notes can be presented in full screen format, with slide show UX so you can jump from one note to the next, plus the ability to scroll down in the note:

Screenshot 2013-12-19 16.06.41


Personally, I am a fan of the Bezos approach to meetings, where each has to be preceded by a 6 page meeting narrative, in a prescribed format (see Flipped meetings: Learning from Amazon’s meeting policy). At the outset of an Amazon meeting, everyone reads the document — which is formatted like a dissertation defense — and then the points are discussed.

The other lesson to apply to meetingology — and just as important as long format writing to go deep on topics — comes from the lean manufacturing world, and that is the lean meeting. At companies like Toyota these are just in time, unplanned, and driven by the need to discuss an issue and come to a decision, and move onto execution. In the creative world, that might entail a designer and writer meeting to discuss content for a web page design — make changes in the mock-up together in real time — and then break up after 13 minutes.

So the trend to push for in your meeting hygiene is to go long and short.