Seth Godin Akimbo: Don’t Go: On Meetings

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses the “culture of meeting.”

Meetings are a form of culture. It is a particular culture (or a specific act) that industrialized organizations engage in regularly. Meetings are expensive and often considered debilitating by most people. Why would something like this persist for so long?

One reason is the human’s need to be able to see, to smell, and to engage with someone right in front of us. The need to interact with other human beings is a powerful motivation because of our belief. We believe that we can judge other people through eye contact and how people dress or behave.

All these human perceptions go back millions of years and now come to the fore in the form of meeting. All these perceptions lead to displays of power. Who gets to sit where and who comes to the meeting last and leave first?

Too many meetings are simply recitations and rehearsals for another session on the distant horizon. We do this because we dread the idea that we are going to go to some meeting unprepared, and that can lead to decades of nightmares.

It was rehearsed in school when we showed up for the exam after going to the wrong room or ask to take pop quizzes being unprepared. We want to avoid going to the important meeting and get called on when we are not ready to produce the answer.

The rehearsal leads to the next idea of safety. We believe it is safer to go to a meeting and wait for someone else to take responsibility. It is safer to go to a meeting and then to postpone the critical or challenging issue to the next meeting.

One of the challenges that technology, such as Slack, brings to the organization is if you write it down, it is now official. However, everyone knows, in a meeting, there is plenty of room for deniability.

Another aspect of working culture is that meeting signals commitment. Signaling is part of corporate loyalty, and we tell ourselves that we are doing productive work at these meetings. These commitments in real-time, combined with the idea of pheromones exchanging and power display, add up to where the in-person meeting becomes super special.

The culture is in every corner of our lives, but we have too often ignored the culture of meetings. Instead of blindly issue and accept every meeting invitation, we should ask ourselves the crucial question all the time, “What exactly is this meeting for?”

If we can answer that question with confidence, we have a shot at making the meeting and things better. If we cannot answer that question, we should reconsider our reason and need to go to the meeting.