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How Meetings Kill Ideas

After reading the research showing that brainstorming doesn't work, I began to think about how meetings sometimes smothered good ideas.

Most meetings are uneventful, consisting mostly of routine decisions and loyalty signaling. Once in every great while, we'd have a meeting that felt like a real breakthrough. Time flew and everything was discusssed. Refrains of "Let's do that" set to a chorus of agreement.

We had the plan. But no motion.

Next week: agreement and excitement continued to swell about the plan. But no motion.

The following week: no motion.

Enthusiasm waned. Soon, the idea wasbe forgotten and relegated to life in an assisted living home. Visition hours would be from ten to noon on weekdays and during nightly bingo (except Wednesday, as that night belonged to arts & crafts).

Idea are alive. Like our bodies, ideas need lots of nutrition and activity to grow correctly. If we want our ideas to flourish, we need a parent to ensure the idea is raised right and/or isn't eaten by wolves.

Getting everyone to agree on an idea is often easy but anyone ever stuck writing a "group" paper knows, it's really easy to dodge responsbility like a ninja. Often, it's a game of chicken played according to who cares the most about their grade.

When responsability is assigned to a collective instead of an individual, it's easy to be a free rider since everyone can rationalize that someone else will do it.

There's a scary analogue in psychology called the Bystander effect, which attempts to describe why a huge crowd wouldn't help someone in the middle of an emergency. (See the tragic and controversial case of Kitty Genovese being murdered in public.) Saying "help me" to a group of bystanders is less effective than pointing at one individual and saying "You help me!" There's no dodging responsiblity or question of who should act. This simple action vastly clarifies how the bystanders should act instead of leaving it to a moral quandry.

The secret to getting ideas to grow, then, is to make sure there's a baby-momma / baby-daddy for every idea.

 We can do this by either taking responsability ourselves ("I love this idea. I'll take ownership of this") or assertively asking one person to take responsability ("Great. Since you're the best with people, will you make this happen?"). Make the commitment firm, but not agressive. Follow up by checking progress and ensure the idea's parent has really internalized the concept that they are the one responsible for the idea.

Make a record.

Feed that baby.

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