Paul Graham Explains Why Meetings Thwart the Flow of Creativity


meetings lead image1 Paul Graham Explains Why Meetings Thwart the Flow of Creativity

Image source: Scut Farkus

On every workday morning for as long as I can remember, I’ve started the day by mentally running through my calendar to determine how many meetings are scheduled. On the days with no meetings, I breathe a huge, exultant sigh of relief. Because I know I can actually get something DONE! I can get into flow without worrying that I have to stop at 10:45 am and then again at 12:30. Meetings thwart creativity because they break up the day into small, unmanageable chunks.

Managers, take note! But don’t take my word for it. Here is Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, who explains this phenomenon in his typically compelling way.

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour. When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in.

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  1. BT on 12.12.2013 at 11:44 (Reply)

    I’ve often speculated that the predominance of extroverts in management leads them to hold meetings because the managers thrive in gregarious, people-oriented environments. Management necessarily becomes more of a lonely position because there’s fewer interactions with subordinates on a personal or friendly level, but working alone is not their forte. Hence, have meetings. Efficiency as a whole is compromised, but the work completion of the manager is met.

  2. DonZilla on 12.12.2013 at 17:04 (Reply)

    In my experience, people who thrive on meetings and extroverted social interaction at work are often incompetent at performing tasks. On a conscious or subconscious level, they’re trying to make up for their incompetent task skills with social skills.

  3. Vicki B on 13.12.2013 at 04:25 (Reply)

    At LastJob, I was having a conversation with my manager, in which I was saying that I really did not need to get all of my groupmate’s vacation and meeting schedules shared with my calendar. We ended up talking about calendars and I mentioned that I didn’t refer to a calendar very often. My manager asked, quite sincerely, how I knew what I was doing or where to be without lookng at a calendar. I had to explan (just as sincerely) that my days werent spent in back to back meetings.

  4. Richard Stiller on 18.12.2013 at 10:49 (Reply)

    It’s not a good idea to generalize. Not all people who hold and attend meetings are ineffective and not all introverts are effective. I think it is good to learn to balance skill sets on both ends of the spectrum. I found though, that meetings become a refuge for many people. It gives them a sense of importance and of accomplishment while actually doing anything. I tend to work through influence and spend more time in one on ones with people. Meetings were a place to listen and observe. Not make points or try to look good. What I found is that when I was “on mission” I could dance around slow moving meeting bound people and influence at a highly effective rate focusing on 1.1′s in person or by phone. Being included or not included in meeting became a non issue for me. It was my skill through personal work relationships to keep informed. Even at off sites, I would haunt the hallways and catch management when they broke away to take phone calls or simply get away from watching mind numbing slide sets.

  5. Red Dog on 22.12.2013 at 22:13 (Reply)

    What you are describing is a top-down, authority based system. Most large businesses are run this way, same as the military and government are run. It’s trickle down authority. Do managers and those (bosses) above them in the chain of command actually produce anything of value? No, the supposed justification for their positions is that they are there to provide oversight of their underlings who do the actual work of producing ideas and products.

    Every system has its slackers. The problem is that when a authority based system treats everyone as a slacker and requires constant monitoring and grouping of workers as manageable subjects, it reduces the productivity of those who could produce even more if they were left on their own. The result is their being forced into collaboration with co-workers who are less productive or non-productive. The assumption is that without constant oversight and mandatory collaboration, little or nothing would be accomplished. This is a fallacious assumption, but one that the social order is based upon - control of the masses. Everyone in such a structure aspires to be a manager, so that he rises one step in his standing as an increase of his power and authority. If everyone were to become a manager, there would be no one left to do any productive work. Non-productivity is something that both slackers and higher management have in common.

    As the old (and now politically incorrect) phrase said it, this system tends to create “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians”…

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