September 30, 2005

Meetings Schmeetings

I hate meetings. I gather that this opinion amongst academics isn't exactly unique. However, at least my expectations for all meetings are at rock bottom so I can only be pleasantly surprised if a meeting actually exceeds expectations.

Yesterday's meeting had its plus and minus points. One minus point was that one of the topics of conversation was completely unintelligible to me. They were speaking English alright, and they weren't using any big words or technobabble or jargon or multiple acronyms that would have obfuscated the conversation. No, the problem was that I mentally failed to register the first sentence of this conversation, which was unfortunately the sole provider of clues as to the topic of conversation. I sat and listened, and could not make head or tail of what they were talking about. They were talking entirely in generalities, and it was very irritating! (We computing types don't like vagueness.)

It got so surreal, they managed to carry this vague conversation on for so long, I started recording some of the actual phrases used:

"taking that message and trying to do something with it"
"make sure that we meet their requirements"
"alert to it all and aware of its importance"

It carried on for so long that I got nervous, in case the chap who started the conversation was going to ask "So what do you think on this issue, Lossy?". Fortunately he didn't and my ignorance was preserved.

One of the plus points of the meeting was that I didn't leave the meeting with too many issues I had to take action on, only a couple of emails to send. In conversation with a friend who works in industry, I was astonished to learn that in the modern programming industry, meetings are not for acquiring greater workloads. Meetings in industry are for turning up to, and assigning work to be done to people who aren't there.

What a splendid idea! At academic meetings, there are often people absent (with the infinitely re-usable excuse "I've got teaching then"), and people only really attend them out of a sense of duty (because otherwise nothing would get agreed upon) or because they've got some issue they want to push. You can't assign much in the way of work to people not at the meeting because you generally don't know what they've got in the way of workload committments, and so you can only really assign things in absentia if you know full well that specific task is the job of the absent person and no other. Thus it is the people who selflessly attend the meetings who come away with various tasks to do.

It's a wonder we have so many meetings...


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