The perils of technology in meetings

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Based on quite a few years now in the management consulting game, I’d been considering initiating a new category of posts entitled something like ‘management pseudoscience’, and then I saw this article in the Age, which seemed like a good way to kick off the category.

By management pseudoscience I mean all the pseudoscience and nonsense which pervades the business world, resulting in a whole range of practices and belief systems which are just as annoying, bizarre and non-sensical as those in the medical or psychological pseudoscience arena. Examples you may have heard of include Myers-Briggs personality typing, and, ‘Top x habits of a successful business’ and that sort of thing. In general I have found that the analysis behind such so-called management science is about as far from the practice of science as you can get. Anyway, more on that later.

The Age article refers to the growing practice of using electronic gadgets at the same time as you are meeting with other humans. Now that the concept of humans being able to effectively multi-task has been thrown out that metaphorical window (actually, more on that in another post), this practice has become particularly annoying, especially if you are a presenter at such a meeting, as I often am.

There are of course situations in which this practice is beneficial (if not polite) – for example, in situations where the meeting is a waste of time and one’s time is better spent doing something else. Yes, there are organisations out there with wall-to-wall meetings, and where participants sleep-walk from one to the other. In these situations, calling and attending meetings actually becomes a surrogate for getting stuff done; stuff doesn’t really get done, but the illusion of getting things done is quite effective.

The article also talks about the courteous way to use communications technology in a meeting if you must – and I agree with the points made. But the other practices are really frustrating.

Early on in the consulting game, I decided that when holding consultation sessions (particularly one-on-one), I would take notes pen-to-paper, and not directly into a laptop, and it’s a policy I’ve enforced at my workplace for the last several years. It’s not an issue of speed of entry; rather it’s all about engagement with those with whom you are speaking. I simply find that typing is not automatic enough to maintain that engagement, whereas the process of writing on paper can be quite transparent during a conversation.

You must know by now that I am not a Luddite – I enjoy the technology as much as the next person, however, it can be counterproductive at times, and shouldn’t be used just because, well, you can.

The most common issue in my recent experience (next to the over-use of the word ‘issue’)  is the use of tablets or smartphones (I would have said Ipads or Iphones, but didn’t want to rile the Apple-seeds). I have on more than one occasion been presenting something reasonably strategic in nature, and something which should be quite important to the executives in attendance, and yet a couple of them just tapped away at their tablet for most of the session. Clearly, the work was not as important to them as they had suggested when initiating it. Or was it that they thought they could effectively multi-task? Regardless of what they thought they were doing, in the end it serves to distract everyone in the room, and when done by a CEO, sends the wrong message to subordinates, and to people trying to help them.

In fact, I have decided in future not to put up with it, client or no client. I will simply need to utter those immortal words, ‘Look at moy!’


2 thoughts on “The perils of technology in meetings

    Blamer .. said:
    June 27, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    The smartest gadgets in the room…

      rationalbrain said:
      June 27, 2011 at 8:41 pm

      Sorry Blamer – I don’t get it – have I missed something?

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