Meetings are the cold, muck-filled trenches in which turf wars are fought. They are the Texas Death Matches of the business world. They are corporate roller derbies. People just trying to skate by spin their wheels, go in circles, and end up exactly where they began—but only after a lot of elbowing, back shoving, and punching. Can you think of any other supposedly civil event that has necessitated an entire book of procedural protocol to keep people from choking each other?
Although there are different types of meetings, all are futile depleters of time and energy. (In meetings even the minutes take hours.)
First, there’s the perilous “Rubber Stamp” meeting, when all those present are obliged to approve, in fact commend, some foregone decision. However, the actual nature of the session is never announced, so unwary new recruits may stick their heads up out of the “No Man’s Land” trench to blithely offer “suggested improvements.” The machine gun of disfavor quickly converts them into cautious veterans—if it doesn’t kill them, of course.
Then, there’s the popular “Geyser” meeting, when participants are encouraged to impotently vent their complaints until they’ve completely run out of steam. They are conditioned to view this gas-passing as “having a voice” and as “entering the conversation.” As a morale management technique, this one’s an Old Faithful.
Finally, there’s the “Mob Mentality” meeting (which feels like a prison sentence), justified by the view that fifteen heads are better than one. (Have you noticed that every mob is an angry mob?) The doctrine here is that problem-solving is best accomplished by large groups of people forced to sit in a cramped cell while they are uncomfortable, bored, and fearful of reprisals from the warden or from other inmates. Contrary to doctrine, however, meetings actually incentivize the meeters to suppress thinking and to agree to whatever is first proposed, no matter how stupid. Opposition or questioning leads to chaotic bickering, which prolongs the ordeal. “We’re tacking thirty minutes onto your sentence for resisting and obstruction.” Going along constitutes “good behavior” and is the quickest way to secure your release.
But even if meeters were reckless enough to disregard the threat to their job security and to disregard the danger of destroying the fragile, hard-won cease-fire among contentious co-workers, and would boldly say what they really thought—even then meetings wouldn’t work to produce the best thinking.
Did Origin of Species originate while Darwin slouched at a table with a pack of not-very-evolved colleagues? No, that link is missing.
Did Shakespeare write his plays during a Globe-al teleconference? Methinks not.
Did Jules Verne invent the Nautilus in sub-committee? Naut-a-chance!
Sir Isaac Newton was completely alone, not in a compulsory gathering of fellow physicists, when he devised the law now known as Robert’s Third Rule of Order—that for every motion there is an equal and opposite counter-motion such that no progress shall ever be made. Newton also formulated a First Rule of Order, but, tragically, his entire theory of motion “died for lack of a second.”
Finally, in meeting after meeting during the 1860s Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev made the motion that rows and columns be used to arrange the chemical elements into a chart, but his idea was periodically tabled. That’s just sad.
It’s time to call the question. Why do we still have meetings? Trench warfare has been abandoned as outdated. Nobody watches roller derby anymore. And indentured servitude has been abolished. So why can’t we rid ourselves of these grueling time wasters? Do we need a constitutional amendment? Let’s form an ad hoc committee. We’ll meet 5:00 Friday afternoon in the Main Meeting Room.
(This piece originally appeared in The Inconsequential.)