March 12, 2012

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Disappearing Work - StuckyIn October my monthly Talking About Tomorrow membership program (“TAT”) featured former IBM researcher and current Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Stanford University – and Very Smart Person – Susan Stucky, who led the group in an important conversation about “disappearing work.”

But Susan wasn’t talking just about all the jobs that are being automated out of existence. She is of course highly aware of, and deeply concerned about, automation, but she asked the TAT participants to focus on another, often unseen, side of the emerging digital economy.

She opened with this statement by economist W. Brian Arthur, External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute, from a 2011 thought piece in McKinsey Quarterly:

Digitization is creating a second economy that’s vast, automatic, and invisible—thereby bringing the biggest change since the Industrial Revolution.

(from “The Second Economy,” October 2011) [click to continue…]

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Telescope_to_Right2016 is coming to a close; this is the time of year when most organizations and their leaders focus their energy and attention on the future. It’s a time for visioning, strategic planning, goal-setting, and sorting out how tomorrow will be different from today.

But how many times have you completed a strategic planning exercise, or a visioning effort, with high energy, high hopes, and exuberant optimism that the effort will finally – finally! – produce meaningful change, only to see everything evaporate in the face of organizational resistance and/or apathy?

Pushing a rock uphillAchieving lasting and meaningful change in large organizations often feels impossible. It’s like Sisyphus rolling that boulder up the mountain, only to see it cascading back down to the valley, and having to start pushing it uphill all over again – and again, and again.

One of the best ways I know to avoid that kind of frustration and stagnation is a Future Search Conference.

 

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Bake a Bigger Pie!

November 21, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

On Thursday this week we in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving – a holiday that began as a reminder of our good fortune in surviving another year and bringing in a bountiful harvest that would last through the winter.

Most of us remember hearing stories in school about the pilgrims who (supposedly) invited their native American “friends” to join them for a feast that (supposedly) included turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie.

Of course we know it wasn’t quite like that. And unfortunately Thanksgiving has evolved into a day for stuffing ourselves as well as a turkey, for gorging on football and the Macy’s parade, and for gearing up for Black Friday and frenzied all-night shopping for year-end holiday gifts.

Somewhere along the way we seem to have forgotten that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, and about sharing our blessings. [click to continue…]

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Crystal BallYou don’t know – you can’t know with 100% certainty – what will happen tomorrow. Yes, you can (and we all do) contemplate the future with a good sense of what is likely to happen, although these days the future seems incredibly cloudy, uncertain, and basically unpredictable. And if tomorrow seems hazy, what about next week, next month, next year, five years from now?

And the less certain you are of what the future will bring, the more highly stressed you are likely to be. That stress comes from not knowing, and from being afraid that you won’t be able to control whatever does happen.

But what if you could “premember” tomorrow as clearly as you remember yesterday?

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peekingfear_000014658459November 8, 2016, is election day in the United States. This has been the most contentious, drawn-out, and, yes, tedious election in my memory. Everyone I know is glad it is about to be over. No matter what your politics or political values, I am positive that like me you are relieved we’ve finally reached the end of this unpleasant journey.

One inevitable result of this year’s electoral dysfunction (deliberate pun) has been rampant uncertainty about the future. And one of the best indicators of uncertainty is the stock market. The U.S. markets have been unsteady and volatile throughout the year, and foreign markets have generally followed suit. [click to continue…]

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For the last several weeks I’ve been making the case that you can improve the quality and productivity of your meetings with relatively little effort. Rethink the basics, offer a simple training workshop, and improve the way you measure the cost and quality of your meetings.

All well and good – but I’ve just realized that I’ve been thinking mostly about the “regular” meetings that happen in every organization and every business unit on a daily basis – the 20 million-plus meetings that take place every day in the United States.

That’s a lot of meetings, and a lot of organizational time and money.

But the meetings that really matter are those infrequent occasions when leadership teams actively explore their organizational future and chart new courses for their business. [click to continue…]

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Thinking Girl Looking Up With Red Question Sign Near HerI’ve been writing about meetings and how to make them better for months.

And, as you know, I even wrote a book about making meetings matter (available on Amazon.com at this linkcontact me directly for volume discounts).

Most of my rants have been directed at senior executives and team leaders, because I consider them the most accountable for lousy meetings. After all, it is organizational leaders who set the tone and establish expectations for how things are supposed to work.

It is organizational leaders who set performance standards, measure actual outcomes, and sponsor leadership development programs aimed at equipping team leaders with both the skillsets and the mindsets for leading effective meetings. I believe those are the people who most need to hear my message and join my crusade.

However, I’ve recently realized that focusing on organizational leaders isn’t enough.

This year in the United States we’re witnessing a powerful strain of populism – of every-day, “ordinary” people saying “enough” and “throw the bums out.” And the Brexit vote in the U.K. is another example of voters expressing displeasure with their elected leaders.

I’m not taking sides here on the upcoming U.S. election, but I do believe we are being reminded every day that the People do have Power – and when they exercise it things can change.

So today I am issuing a call to anyone and everyone who ever gets invited to a meeting to change the way you respond, and to hold the leaders who call all those meetings to higher standards.

Not too long ago I wrote a short piece (“Making Meetings Matter: Leading from Anywhere”) listing several specific things you can do as a meeting participant to help the formal leader make the meeting run smoothly and accomplish its goals.

I now realize that focusing on the actual meeting is only one small part of the puzzle, and when the meeting starts it’s often too late to make a meaningful difference. I just watched a short but fabulous TEDx talk delivered by David Grady in Boston in October 2013 (“How to Save the World, or at Least Yourself, from Bad Meetings”). It’s less than seven minutes long; I encourage you to watch it.

Here is the YouTube version:

Grady identifies what he calls “MAS – Mindless Acceptance Syndrome” – the “involuntary reflex in which a person accepts a meeting invitation without even thinking why.”

I completely agree: that’s where the bad meetings epidemic begins.

The next time you get a meeting invitation, ask these four important questions before you accept it or commit to attend:

  • What is the Purpose of the meeting? What outcomes does the leader want or expect?
  • What is the Agenda? How will we spend our time during the meeting?
  • Who else has been invited? Are they the right people for accomplishing the meeting’s purpose?
  • How will my attendance at this meeting help me accomplish my own goals and produce positive results for me and/or my organization?

If you can’t answer those basic questions, Decline the meeting; or, better, contact the person who sent you the invitation and ask him/her these four questions. If there are reasonable answers, then you can consider Accepting the invitation. If not, then you can either work with the meeting leader to develop reasonable answers or Decline to attend.

I realized recently that one of the main reasons we are experiencing such an epidemic of lousy meetings is that in most organizations there is no one person responsible for the quality of meetings across the organization. Yes, individual leaders must be accountable for their own meetings; and yes, anyone who attends a meeting shares responsibility for the quality of that meeting. But most of us don’t realize how much we can do individually to make our meetings better. More importantly the distributed responsibility makes it difficult to launch any kind of organization-wide initiatives to improve how meetings are designed and led.

As David Grady points out so eloquently, you wouldn’t tolerate a fellow employee walking into your workspace and stealing your chair. But almost every day you allow others to steal a far more valuable resource: your time. Stop it right now – no more Mindless Acceptance of meeting invitations!


For a longer exploration of how to make all those lousy meetings both productive and popular, order a copy of my most recent book, Making Meetings Matter: How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age (link is to the book’s page on Amazon.com. However, you should contact me directly for volume discounts). Or, as a first step, view a short video and download a free excerpt at this link.


And call me today (+1 510.558.1434) for a free exploratory conversation about how you can become a hero by improving your organization’s meeting ROI. Isn’t it time to upgrade the quality and the efficiency of all your meetings?

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What is it worth to make your meetings both more efficient and more effective?

As I have been suggesting for the past several weeks, meetings can be improved in many different ways, both by reducing their costs (fewer meetings, shorter meetings, fewer participants, smaller conference rooms, and relying more on virtual meetings), and by improving their outcomes (crisper decisions, more explicit commitments to action, more active follow-up and feedback).

In the course of thinking through how meetings work, how they unfold, and what it takes to improve them, I’ve developed a formal “Meetings Quality Assessment” or a “MQA”, as well as a “Meetings ROI” formula (M-ROI). I’ve also clarified what kinds of actions can increase your MQA score or produce a positive M-ROI. [click to continue…]

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Women Hand writing ROI Return on Investment

Over the last several weeks I have been exploring several basic ways to improve your organizational ROI for meetings.

Last week I talked about two complementary approaches to improving meeting efficiency:

  1. Holding fewer meetings
  2. Conducting shorter meetings

(See “The Business Case for Making Your Meetings Matter (Part 3)” for details).

Today I am focusing on how distributed meetings can reduce costs in dramatic ways. I then conclude by proposing an integrated, three-phase approach for jacking up that ROI.

Reducing Costs: Let Me Count the Ways

There are many kinds of savings that come from greater use of distributed meetings. Note that some of these benefits accrue to organizations, some to individuals, and some to society more broadly. [click to continue…]

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