If the internet productivity blogosphere were school recess, meetings would be the kid that gets so severely pantsed he can't even start digging the underwear out of his crack before getting dog piled. There are at least two good reasons  meetings don't have many friends online:

  1. Meeting haters are very bright, creative (if geeky) types that generally work better outside of traditional corporate-imposed constraints. They blog about it.
  2. Meetings are often ill-conceived and ill-defined.

The first reason is totally legitimate to me, but we should talk a little more about the second one. (I mean, it’s not like you’re trying to get anything done right now anyway, right? Cool. Me either.)

Tony Golsby-Smith thinks that meetings should be conversations:

A conversation is informal. As the great German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer said, you only have a conversation when you don’t know the outcome at the beginning. Think about a conversation you have with a friend over a cup of coffee. It flows from one topic to another; ideas spark spontaneously. A conversation is alive and interesting, and sometimes even a little dangerous.

Some of the most effective meetings I’ve ever been in were just that: open-ended conversations. In my career as an actuary, I’m often faced with situations that don’t lend themselves to black and white answers. There are no manuals that tell you what to do at the confluence of every conceivable combination of economic factors, and believe it or not, Google is of zero help. And email. . . well, that can be like lubricating the decision-making process with coarse sand.

In highly technical fields that routinely brush the never-seen-before – whether it’s software, medicine, actuarial science, or astrophysics – if you ask three experts to provide a solution on their own, you’ll get three different solutions. Likely very different ones. But let three creative experts converse in a room together, and you’ll get a much smarter consensus-shaped outcome (if a few ego bruises along the way).1

The “conversational meeting” is a great example of how solutions to complex, technical problems often require artistic approaches. Numbers still matter, but portfolios of independent, articulate thinkers are the most valuable assets in our age.

Update: Observant reader Mariam correctly pointed out that I'm confusing a pantsing with a wedgying. I accepted a while back that the more I write online, the more I'll pants myself. Carry on.

  1. You might think I’m talking about the Delphi method here, but that’s a bit formal for my tastes. Just make people talk, and things will happen.