I have meetings this week. It’s been a while. In the world of self-employment I don’t have to go to many meetings. The ones I have with myself can be chaotic. Often I leave to take a phonecall and never go back.
Meetings are much maligned. Of course it’s easy to sneer at them. No really it is. You just move your seat back slightly from the table, hold some paper up to your face and arrange your mouth and eyebrows into a sneery configuration. Just don’t do it if you’re the boss.
No doubt the most stressful of all meetings are those where you’ve to ‘give a presentation’. Here’s a tip: No matter what you’re doing prior to that meeting, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to allow everything to go wrong in a safe empty environment long before the other attendees arrive. Make your excuses to the other mourners, spouse-to-be, midwife or whoever and get into that meeting room early. Your colleagues have had a stressful day and nothing will make them happier than relaxing and watching you whisper fiercely at your laptop: “Listen you piece of £$$£. If you don’t get those slides up onto that screen I will break your face and rip out your keys one by one. Forget the WEEE directive on disposal of electrical waste, I will personally supervise your destruction over a vat of molten something. Now WORK!”
Many of us have dozed, sweated and generally atrophied through a lot of meetings in our lives. There were the bad meetings you dreaded for days in advance having to explain in front of your peers and superiors about the mess you’ve made. But there were also the good ones: where they’ve run out of time before getting to the item on the agenda that was your fault.
More often than not, meetings are a nice way to pass the time away from the computer, to watch others whisper fiercely at a laptop and a projector, complain about what cretins clients and customers are and generally have a good chat.
The American writer Dave Barry once said: “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’”.
I disagree completely. It suggests that meetings haven’t played a vital role in our evolution in the past. We speak blithely about vital moments in history without thinking about the simple basics of how they happened.
We gaze in wonder at the cave paintings in Lascaux or Altamira as if they just appeared. But think about the commitment required from a tribe to stage a buffalo hunt and then allow someone to opt out of the hunt and spend the time observing or gathering the required burnt ochre. They must have had a meeting for that. I would have loved to have been a fly on the as-yet unpainted cave wall watching it unfold. In one corner a sceptical tribal chief and her senior managers. In the other, the young whelp whose role encompassed Corporate Social Responsibility trying to convince them that morale and general tribal ‘engagement’ could be improved if they had a few paintings around the place and eventually resorting to a different tack. “The Neanderthals are doing it, and they’re our biggest competitors.” “Really? We can’t be having that. You can take that wall there. The one with the fly on it.”
Even earlier in our existence, what about the humans who first left Africa 100,000 years ago? Genetic research indicates it may have been a relatively singular event with just 150 individuals involved. But even with a group that small, there must have been status update meetings on the plans. “Okay; the latest on the ’office move’ is that we’re considering a number of new locations. The positive thing is that initial investigations tell us the world’s pretty much our oyster on this one. – So exciting times ahead. We’re just working on a way to leave conflicting clues for future archaeologists and then we’re good to go.”
The problem with meetings is that they are a waste of time unless the key decision maker is there. Either nothing gets done or worse, the wrong thing gets done. In the Old Testament, while Moses was on Sinai, the Israelites melted down all their gold and made a giant idol of a golden calf. Just at that precise moment Moses was getting – downloaded onto his Tablet – a memo from head office outlawing both idols and cavortion. He/Charlton Heston must have come down from the mountain spotted all the orgying and thought “Have I missed a meeting?”
Speaking of the key decision makers not being present while a group of people take all the wealth of the country in order to create giant golden idols, Enda Kenny came back from a meeting in Europe this week with some big decisions. No doubt the government are dreading the prospect of a referendum because it means the People will be motivated and angry and exercised enough to Vote No. And regardless of the Attorney General’s opinion, the government will still be urged to let the People have their say.
If Enda wants to pass this thing and still maintain the semblance of democracy, instead of a referendum he should just set up a meeting. Half of us wouldn’t turn up, the rest of us would be asleep and then at the end he could say “So we’ll go ahead with that” and just to get out of the stuffy room we’d say yes.
Unless there are any objections, I’ll leave it at that. I have another meeting in a minute.