How Meetings Are a Waste Of Time and How To Avoid or Get Out of Them

facepalm  I read a WSJ article on ineffective meetings.  It is about the manifesto to end boring meetings.

This brought back thousands of hours of meetings I wished I could have back or would certainly decline to attend had I realized what I know now.  Most of this post is tongue in cheek unlike the WSJ, but I’ll bet everyone wishes they weren’t in so many meetings.

First, let me start out with some quotes I found from The Quote Garden, starting with the one that reminded me most of the meetings I’ve attended:

A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.  ~Barnett Cocks, attributed

worfgif

A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.  ~Milton Berle

To kill time, a committee meeting is the perfect weapon.  ~Author Unknown

If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be “meetings.”  ~Dave Barry, “Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn”

Our age will be known as the age of committees.  ~Ernest Benn

If Columbus had an advisory committee he would probably still be at the dock.  ~Arthur Goldberg

A committee is an animal with four back legs.  ~John le Carré, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods.  ~H.L. Mencken

A “Normal” person is the sort of person that might be designed by a committee.  You know, “Each person puts in a pretty color and it comes out gray.”  ~Alan Sherman

A committee is a thing which takes a week to do what one good man can do in an hour.  ~Elbert Hubbard

A camel looks like a horse that was planned by a committee.  ~Author Unknown

A committee is a group of the unwilling chosen form the unfit, to do the unnecessary.  ~Author Unknown

If you live in a country run by committee, be on the committee.  ~Author Unknown

Could Hamlet have been written by a committee, or the Mona Lisa painted by a club?… Creative ideas do not spring from groups.  They spring from individuals.  The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam.  ~Alfred Whitney Griswold

We always carry out by committee anything in which any one of us alone would be too reasonable to persist.  ~Frank Moore Colby

I don’t believe a committee can write a book.  It can, oh, govern a country, perhaps, but I don’t believe it can write a book.  ~Arnold Toynbee

There is no monument dedicated to the memory of a committee.  ~Lester J. Pourciau

Any committee that is the slightest use is composed of people who are too busy to want to sit on it for a second longer than they have to.  ~Katharine Whitehorn

Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.  ~John Kenneth Galbraith

People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.  ~Thomas Sowell

AND OF COURSE, THERE IS BRADLEY’S BROMIDE: “If computers get too powerful, we can organize them into a committee — that will do them in.”

I WORKED FOR “THE” MEETING COMPANY
I worked a large part of my career either for or with IBM, which many have joked that it stands for I’ve Been in a Meeting. I could have been years more productive and retired earlier if it hadn’t been for all of the meetings I’ve spent time in.  Projects would have been completed weeks in advance were it not for meetings.

Usually, the meetings were a way to get other people to do your work for you, or to assign work to others they wouldn’t do or volunteer for were it not for the fact that they were at a meeting.  The only time this didn’t work was when I actually needed to get a speaker for a press briefing for an interview with Time Magazine when print media was important.  His manager, John Callies then VP of Netfinity or X series at IBM(x86 servers), wouldn’t let the speaker leave the staff meeting stating, “it’s only your job” as the reason.  See how manage executive ego’s for more on this. I’d have never imagined having to cancel an interview with what was then an important publication due to an executives’ ego. I’ve seen bad manager moves in my time, but this was top 10 worst of the worst for me.  He still ranks as the number one suit I’ve ever worked with.  The below meme was how it felt to be in a meeting with him.

Execs have also had meetings in places that they wanted to visit (click on the link to see who it is), and most people knew that.  That was a waste of travel time and money for a wasted meeting. There were other reasons they had meetings, but read the quotes at the beginning to find out why said were held.

Avoid training meetings, unless it was a way to be busy during a meeting you want to avoid.  This is especially true of diversity training.  It is a waste of time (same exact meeting every time every year for the required legal reason) but is more important than almost any other meeting, so it serves 2 purposes.  No one will go against diversity training for fear of being politically or legally incorrect.  It does allow you to miss another meeting and no one pays attention anyway.  It’s an opportunity to get work done while the training is going on in the background.  Your attendance is recorded so you are twice as effective as you complete your work, earn your mark for training and ignore the same speech you went through last year all at the same time.

MEETING RULES TO SURVIVE

The best way to deal with a meeting is to avoid it.  If you can already have a meeting at a time that the scheduler proposes it or be busy and/or somehow away or out of the office.  Teleconferencing kills that strategery  unless you can be found traveling, but sometimes it’s unavoidable (see how to get out of a meeting below if you have to go).  The people calling the meeting are really only people who want the meeting anyway.

For things to do to avoid meetings or how to goof around during a meeting, go to the link How to goof around at work.

HERE IS MY RULE WHEN TO DECIDE TO ATTEND IF I HAD A CHOICE: if there were more than 4 people, don’t go.  Nothing will get done other than resulting in another meeting to have to attend.  This is especially true if there are more than 1 executives, as each brings a team of competing players who guarantee the death of productivity.

The WSJ agrees with me, but goes on to say that if it has 17 people, there is no chance anything will get accomplished.
Don’t speak at a meeting if possible. It usually wastes time and extends the meeting length.  There are only a couple of people who really have something to contribute, the rest want to hear themselves talk, show off their PowerPoint skills to bore you, or think they are more important if they speak.  These show offs can be  insufferable, but they offer time to check your email at best while pretending to listen.

This is in the department of redundancy department, but it is so important to note is to be careful when attending because the meeting leader’s purpose is to assign their work to others or get people to do work they wouldn’t do because they can’t decline in public (this is a corporate tradition).  This further kills your ability to be productive at your real job.  There are some who want to look important by accepting work magnanimously to show off, thinking they were climbing the ladder.  Gladly accept their offer as most people have 10 hours of work for an 8 hour day anyway. Only accept it if it produces revenue or if you are the only one qualified to do it, but generally don’t, especially if you perceive it as a make work project.

Especially avoid planning meetings.  A meeting to plan another meeting is one to be skipped unless you are the project manager and called the meeting, then you have to do it.  Avoid these at all costs.  Once nobody shows up, the meeting gets cancelled for email updates, which is a far better use of your time.  As my grandfather said, they are as common as pig tracks and as useless as teats on a boar hog.

Avoid staff meetings.  These are like planning meetings, but they occur regularly and when you miss one, nobody really cares (especially if there are more than 4 people). Only attend them occasionally as you work with these people everyday anyway, it’s not like you don’t know what is going on.  Email your boss on a regular basis with your activity and you can plan something more productive during that time.

HOW TO GET OUT OF A MEETING

The tongue in cheek part really goes here.  I’ll bet there are folks out there far more creative about this than me.

My favorite methods are to have a customer who needs you.  They are your business and that overrides almost everything.  Even your boss can’t deny this.

Pre-plan an emergency.  I occasionally had another employee phone or knock on the door to call me out (email or text isn’t as good as that is not public enough) to get you out of a meeting.  The trick is to never return. You’ll get the notes anyway, I promise. Since I worked with the press and analysts, I sometimes had a co-worker say that a reporter needed me right now.  They were my customer and no one could say no.  Many times there was no real emergency even if the press did call, it was the best and most efficient use of my time to leave the meeting so as to be actually working instead of being at a meeting.  I usually dealt with the press immediately unless I had to do some digging to get back to them.

Attend meetings by phone if possible.  You can always put the phone on mute and get your real work done, or surf the web or watch TV, which is usually just as productive.  It’s easier to go to the bathroom, which brings me to…

Go to the bathroom.  Offer to get a water to others when you go, then take as much time reading the sports page in the stall as you can.  You are just as productive as listening to someone prattle on about their project.

Send your meeting information in by proxy.  See above where someone is willing to talk.  Give them your results or input so you don’t have to be there.

 THE KIND OF MEETING TO HAVE

I realize that some meetings are necessary, so I understand that it’s the only way to get some things done.  For the other majority of the time, see above.

The best meeting is a hall meeting.  You run into the person you need help from and in 5 minutes, you’ve explained your need, what they can do and your time frame for doing it.  Problem solved.

I also recommend having meetings with introverts and/or men.  They don’t like to talk much (most of them) and want to get it over as quickly as you do.  Attire requirements are less of a priority as is small talk.

Here is the net net, don’t go to a meeting if you don’t have to, get out early if at all possible and above all, don’t speak unless you have no option.  Consider it a victory if you don’t attend, or a minor victory if you have to attend but don’t come out with anyone else’s work. You are a complete failure if you open your mouth and double your workload on something that is not tangential to your job or career.  Enjoy your job more by having the time to actually be productive.

December 7th, 1941; Sex, Drugs and Incompetency In Washington

pearl202a1.jpgRevelations of what happened leading up to and following this tragic day inform us of  a backstory of the events that took place in Washington.

Let me go on record to state that I am patriotic and an avid admirer of what the men of our nation did to overcome the tyranny of the Japanese and Germans in WWII.  If you click on the military category of my posts, you will see that when I get cut, I bleed red, white and blue.  I believe in the greatness and considerable achievements of the United States as well as it being the largest contributor for the betterment of others by any country in history.

However, as an amateur historian and an observer of the (in)competency and motives of bureaucrats  in Washington, what our government did leading up to and on that day shows the weaknesses of humans. It should be noted that the Americans and more especially the soldiers who fought the war are held as honorable in my opinion.  This post is not written to tear down any of the bravery accomplished during the war.  They fought valiantly and protected freedom with the Allies.

This event brought together the country so that good overcame evil and I have the utmost respect for what was accomplished in that war.

Much of this was inspired by “History Honors Pearl Harbor” on the History Channel as well as other documented sources.

A historical documentation and the actual speech can be found here.

Incompetency

America was woefully unable to protect itself by December 6, 1941.  It is not unlike today, December 7, 2016, as our current military has been decimated, or the decay of the military before the 9/11 Islamic terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers by the administration in charge during the decade of the 1990’s .

On the day of the attack, Roosevelt was viewed by his son as frozen at times because of the thought of what it would do to his legacy.  Just like the 42nd and 44th president, their legacy was more important than the nation.  The worst attack on American soil would be under his watch and he would be unprepared to deal with it.  Fortunately, by 8 am on 12/9/41, brave young men around the country were lined up at the draft offices, but it would take the monumental effort of the country to overcome the government’s lack of responsibility to have a force that could protect our borders.

Next was the communications between Pearl Harbor and Washington.  Roosevelt couldn’t get information about what was happening.  Granted, the communications infrastructure was not what it is today, but there weren’t even secure lines or even direct lines to Washington. The Naval commander in Hawaii who tried to communicate information to the Chief Naval officer Admiral Stark at the War Department couldn’t give specifics as he wasn’t sure if the Japanese were listening in.

Further, the American leadership greatly underestimated the mental acuity of the Japanese thinking that they weren’t technologically capable of such an attack.  It was speculated that the Germans had given them assistance.  Hitler later admitted he had no idea that the Japanese were planning to, or had attacked Pearl Harbor despite what was taught at Faber College.

Douglas MacArthur couldn’t be reached in the Philippines for most of the day.  General Marshal of the Army tried for the better part of the day to warn him of the happenings in Hawaii and to prepare for a similar attack.  Washington wasn’t sure of where he even was or if the Japanese had already attacked.  MacArthur boasted that he had special insight into the oriental mind. When he finally was reached, his response was that he was on full alert and that “We are ready, we have our tails in the air”.  History documents that the Japanese attacked and drove him out of the Philipines shortly thereafter as MacArthur did virtually nothing and lost the islands in an embarrassing defeat.  He was woefully unprepared, but his ego wouldn’t let him admit it.

Finally, the government couldn’t spend more than $750 on an automobile so they couldn’t get a bullet proof car for the President to be transported from the White House to the Capitol to give the speech.  The Treasury Department had confiscated Al Capone’s car earlier so that one was used instead as they couldn’t be bothered to have proper protection for the leader of the free world.  That would haunt Washington as recently as November 22, 1963.

Roughly 6 hours after the attack, FDR approved Executive Order 9066 which imprisoned 92,000 Japanese to internment camps for no reason other than their might be a fifth column attack within.  It was supposed to be limited in scope to arrest any spies but morphed into what was one of the lowest points of FDR’s term of leadership.  Little to no evidence is ever recorded that there was any treason on their part and no one was convicted of espionage or disloyalty.

They were deemed guilty rather than innocent in one of the greatest acts of prejudice by an administration.

MORE INCOMPETENCE AND DID WASHINGTON KNOW ABOUT THE ATTACK BEFOREHAND?

As I’ve stated, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I am for facts.  FDR ordered an investigation headed by Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts of the attack 18 days after the attack.  Some interesting things were revealed.  You can read further about it in the book A Matter of Honor, Betrayal, Blame and a Family’s Quest for Justice.

Admiral Kimmel, head of the Navy in the Pacific had asked Chief of Naval Operations Harold Stark six months before the attack to keep him apprised of latest intelligence regarding what the Japanese were up to.  Washington knew that Pearl Harbor was vulnerable to attack as early as November 1940.

Stark held back the information that aerial torpedos capable of being deployed in waters shallower than at Pearl were being used, despite Stark reassuring Kimmel that the water in the harbor was too shallow for a torpedo attack.  How this wasn’t an act of treason is curious.

The FBI had intercepted information that the Japanese had made inquiries as to the depth at Pearl and whether anti-torpedo nets had been deployed there, but again Kimmel was never informed.  Not sharing this with the command was grossly incompetent or an act of political chess.

Code-breaker Lawrence Safford visited Kimmel after he had resigned.  He then told Kimmel about project Magic that broke coded Japanese diplomatic messages.  Washington failed to inform Kimmel what they knew prior to the attack. It reveals the Japanese had spies informing the Imperial Forces where the exact location of the ships anchored as recently as 3 months before the attack.  The code breakers who discovered this in Magic was only shared by as few as 10 men who couldn’t or wouldn’t tell anyone else.  It was a power play by political operatives in Washington instead of military strategists who would have warned the fleet in Oahu and had the capability to defend against a surprise attack.

A message to the Japanese embassy was decoded instructing them to move to negotiations that had to be completed by 11/5/41, or things will happen automatically beyond that.

The Japanese fleet set sail on November 25th.  There was no turning back at this point.

FDR was aware that the Japanese were going to break off negotiations and 10 days prior to the attack, Admiral Stark issued a warning that there could be an attack, unfortunately not mentioning or notifying the Hawaiian Islands that they were a possible target.

Three hours prior to the attack, Stark received a message that indicated what was about to happen but failed to notify Kimmel.  By the time the message was placed into Kimmel’s hands, it was 8 hours after the attack and was not marked priority.

The intelligence was available, but Washington failed to connect the dots.

I hope that the administration which has meandered it’s way around the safety of our country hasn’t set the table for a repeat by those who have lost their respect for our capability to defend ourselves.

SEX

Missy LaHand, FDR’s assistant for 21 years contacted him on December 7th.  She was closer to the president than Eleanor during that time, some speculate in many ways other than a secretary.  With everything that was going on, the last thing he needed was to hear from a woman he’d had a relationship with.  Eleanor allegedly pushed for a divorce after discovering hat FDR had an affair with her social secretary,  so the last thing he wanted to do was push the envelope unnecessarily by contacting her.  With the decisions that would change the world in front of him, all he needed was additional drama from his wife and another woman.  He decided not to return her call from Warm Springs where she was recovering and it devastated her so greatly that she attempted suicide shortly thereafter.  Presidents have had trouble keeping their pants zipped.

As a side note, but belonging in the sex category, Edward R. Murrow interviewed FDR that night.  Not that it has anything to affect the situation, Murrow carried on a wartime affair with Churchill’s daughter-in-law Pamela Digby Churchill when he was a reporter in London.  He had a close relationship with the Leaders of the Free World and an even closer relationship with some of their relatives.

DRUGS

Roosevelt had a chronic sinus condition from which he suffered most of his life.  Shortly after the attack, he had a headache and was congested, so he was wheeled into the office of his physician, Dr. Ross Macintyre where he was treated with cocaine.  It can be argued that it may have affected his decision-making that day.  Since it was legal, it wasn’t an issue.  Drugs used to be a political show stopper until Obama, who admitted he snorted it got elected.

ROCK AND ROLL

Fortunately, the attack woke up the nation and kick-started the industrial might the US.  Some of the greatest human, scientific and technological achievements happened during the war.

Most important though was the lesson on how wars should be fought and won, something that has been lost on the leadership today.  You fight to win and settle only  for unconditional surrender.  At that point, you set the terms of how the relationship will proceed.  Germany and Japan have become industrial and world leaders, built up by the USA after the war unlike Vietnam and the middle east where our troops were strangled by congress rather than let soldiers fight the war.