Wednesday, February 2

"Meetings kill creativity." Discuss ...

Just yesterday I read an article titled "Is Your Calendar Managing You?"   The material therein is nothing new: it's been the topic of many a management diatribe over the years.  But its relevance to creativity at work is actually rather profound, and that justifies a little dedicated attention in this column.

We're all really, really, really busy.  It goes without saying.

But should our calendars be full if our appointments don't directly support our avowed priorities?

How sensible is it to spend an hour each week updating a weekly activity report, when most of the tasks referenced are only of nominal importance?

How vital is it that we attend three status meetings every Tuesday, spending 70% of each meeting hearing our peers slip their actions, and then excuse the slippage in ever more elaborate ways?

How critical that we review that 12th technical specification, when others will contribute much more meaningfully to the process?

Chris Guillebeau is famous for telling us that only around 20% of traditional white-collar work is actually useful.  I find it hard to disagree, but at least I now try to challenge-down the offending 80% of my own work, and often that of my clients too.

If we let it, our diary will fill with meaningless work.  And if we're not thinking straight, we'll consider the depth of that time commitment to be a minor victory!

So if you're spending 30 hours a week in meetings (and still finding time to read this blog) then consider the following for a moment:
  1. Saving just half that time would give you three hours back each day.  You could use 90 minutes to get some of the actual work done, and still have 90 minutes free for thinking, to sharpen your edge.
  2. Attending fewer meetings would keep more of your mind from meaningless junk, and perhaps permit a bit more space for intelligent views to form.
  3. Optimum creativity demands a bit of leisure time, to open the mind
  4. Creativity can be stifled by repeating the same old patterns time-after-time.  The synaptic pathways in our brains deepen, and we become "old dogs" before our time.

If you've been paying attention so far, you'll have developed a nice counter-argument for me:  "Surely," you'll say, "the best creative ideas are arrived at in meetings?"

Having reflected on this extensively in the past, I don't think your canny counter-argument is as clear-cut as we first imagine.  Firstly, what's required for new ideas is a blending of disjoint concepts, and that needn't happen in a face-to-face meeting.

Perhaps more fundamentally, we shouldn't underestimate the extent to which we can be creative alone.  With a little preparation and training this quickly becomes an invaluable skill, and certainly something I'd be loath to trade-in for another "Morning Prayers".

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