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Go Ahead and Elon that Meeting

by Derek Laliberte 13 Jan 2022

When I was in high school, I had a girlfriend who wanted to talk on the phone for hours, and I despised it! I figured if we couldn't hang out that day, we could catch up in person tomorrow but, I was soft. "Sure, let's talk on the phone for two hours. What else do I have to do besides roam the neighborhood with my buddies on our bikes?" 

Doesn't that sound awesome? You know it does! 

I figured out that my mom could walk into my room and tell me to get off the phone. I just needed a way to signal to her from my bedroom. I devised a plan to hit the mute button and knock on the wall. Less than 30 seconds later, she would barge in, telling me I needed to let my girlfriend go (off the phone, that is). 

"Sorry, gotta go. Love you, bye!"

My mom doesn't know it, but she was the original Elon Musk. 

Present Day

It was 6 pm on a Thursday, and I was on a call discussing the potential need for another call. A meeting, actually, so we could go over a process for training. 

Here's a summary of how that went down: 

Them: "I would like to discuss how you're going to do training?"

Me: "We don't need to. I can write up the process and send it over to you in five minutes." 

Them: "I would still like to meet. How about tonight?" 

Me: "[now getting irritated] I can't 'tonight.' I need to take my son to football practice, and I would like to watch. Tell you what. I work out every day from 5 am-7 am and I'm up by four. How about we meet either before or right after?" 

Them: (Apparently, I was on speakerphone) "No, [they] can't meet, because [they] have a family. 

Me: "I'll send over the schedule for training, and you can tell me what you want to add or take out, fair?"

I'm not going to be specific with names or even what company I was working for; all I will say is that this scenario wasn't new to me. It's happened quite often in my career. I didn't feel the need to mention that I am a very process-oriented person or that I've spent a considerable amount of my career training teams. I simply created the spreadsheet which documented precisely how the process would play out and sent it over. It took me five minutes. Had we met, it would have taken an hour and five minutes. 

The Past

Early in my "software-slangin" days, I learned a valuable lesson about meetings and how they can waste someone's time if not adequately structured—potentially costing the company money as well. For this story, I'll be a little more specific. It was a 350k custom software project, and the client was eager to get moving. I could taste the commission check and already started envisioning how I would spend it. Our team needed to meet to discuss the next steps which, I thought was a huge deal. Enter our Custom Software Practice Leader, David. David was probably the most intelligent person I have ever worked with at that time. The kind of software developer that created his own Fantasy Football application with the sole purpose of managing all of his teams. I thought I knew how to play fantasy football, but I can assure you, David made me look like an amateur. Before we could even start, David walks in and says, "if we don't have an agenda and outcome for this meeting, I'm leaving. I have a lot to do, and I won't waste my time." 

At first, I just thought Ol'Dave was a dick. No, no, David respected his time and appreciated the time of others, including the company's bottom line. At the time, we charged $125/hour for developers and upwards of $150 for architects. For that era, that was considered low, but with four devs in the room, a one-hour meeting without a clear agenda and outcome would have cost us over $500. David understood the actual cost of that meeting. I wasn't billable so, I didn't, but I should have known better. 

It was an opportunity cost.

Opportunity cost is the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. 

I remember learning that phrase like it was yesterday and have lived with that example for the past 11 years. Whenever I schedule a meeting, I think to myself what our agenda is, our desired outcome is, and if I don't know, we don't need to meet. Actually, I just think of David walking in and dropping the bomb on me-works every time. 

David was an early version of Elon.

It's also the exact reason I ALWAYS set an agenda, I ALWAYS mention the time, and I ALWAYS mention the outcome of the meeting. I would also like to add that I usually try and make a point to tell everyone I will do my best to finish early. But, I don't run every meeting. 

So, when I think about meetings, I usually think about the work I'm missing out on completing. Think of it this way. If you have eight hours' worth of work to do each day and four meetings, you technically have a 12-hour day planned right out the gate, leaving you with four options. 

  1. The first option is to take an active role participating in your meetings, knowing full well that your participation might result in more work you don't have time to do. 
  2. The second option is to take the hybrid approach-my personal favorite. This approach consists of being half-in and half-out. Technically you're there, but you're asking to repeat everything directed your way because you're trying to get something done simultaneously. 
  3. The third option is to turn your camera off and put yourself on mute. When I'm slammed with meetings and tasks, it's always option three. A close second might have something to do with my only time to eat lunch. Either way, it doesn't matter. If you're choosing option three, you are definitely in too many meetings. 
  4. The fourth option is to work all day. That doesn't sound too awesome, though. 

All four of these options are not suitable or sustainable for anyone. Meetings are the death of productivity. Sure, they're needed, but at least consider who needs them? And sometimes, meetings don't even need to be an email. They don't even need to be a slack message. In fact, they are likely the result in a breakdown of a process somewhere. Maybe we should meet to fix the process? I bet we find an area that needs more output. It might be called productivity. 

With any organization or any company culture, it's my opinion that we need to consider the time each task will take to get done before we book a meeting involving the person we are delegating to do it. And never, I mean ever, have a meeting without the person responsible for the work because now you'll need to meet again only this time you're not only wasting their time, or the company's time, now you're wasting your own time. 

A colleague of mine had me read an article about Elon Musk's meeting philosophy.  One of Elon's thoughts is when you realize you are adding no value to a meeting, just stand up and leave. About a month later, I found myself at a software integration meeting. About 10 minutes in, I hadn't said a word nor was asked anything. It was a video call. I typed the message "I'm not adding any value, best wishes" in the chat, and I bounced! 

Forty-five minutes later, I got a call from my guy telling me, "Way to Elon that meeting!" 

Finally, I achieved Elon status.

Typical corporate meeting structure

Do you know what I think we should do? Here's what I think. Yeah, but what about what I think? You know, all that being said here's what I'm thinking.

Here's what I think:

I think that most meetings aren't necessary, and sometimes meetings are a huge waste of time.

Food for thought, 


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