‘‘Meetings’’: The very word is enervating. With the freedom to peaceably assemble so high up on America’s founding priority list, you’d think that the workers of the free world would gather with more patriotic vigor, just as we speak, bear arms and pursue trials by jury. Instead, the spirit in which we come together, almost hourly in some professions, is something closer to despondency. Fifteen percent of an organization’s time is spent in meetings, and every day, the transcontinental conference room known as the white-collar United States plays host to 11 million meetings, according to research collated by Fuze, the telecommunications company (which might have a stake in publicizing research designed to stoke meeting fatigue). One study mysteriously calculates that the nation wastes more than $37 billion in ‘‘unproductive meetings.’’ The statistics seemed borne out by the several meeting-besotted companies I’ve advised, and I began to wonder if the Manager’s schedule suited anyone but tireless extroverts and PowerPoint connoisseurs.
And yet we persist. Meetings must be scratching some kind of itch, if only for fellowship and a reprieve from deskbound loneliness. And what an itch: Meetings are not just considered indispensable to many professions; they are almost coextensive with them. You can make a whole career of planning, holding and attending meetings and never dare contemplate the possibility of your being exempt. They can’t be avoided, but maybe they can be made bearable. I set out to see if anyone had a bright idea.