Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

  

Whenever I see numbers, my eyes describe a troubled orbit.

Unless, of course, the numbers are on a check, payable to me.

However, I’ve just had some numbers thrust upon me that create an unusual disturbance in unexpected parts of my being.

They were presented by a company called Attentiv. It, like most companies that present numbers to the outside world, has a vested interest in presenting them.

However, these tend put the numb into numbers.

Try this: Sixty-three percent of meetings have no planned agenda.

You know the feeling. Someone has called a meeting that may turn out to decide there needs to be another meeting. It may be a meeting about something. Just as often, it may be a meeting about the person who’s called the meeting.

You may counter that business flies by at an insane pace, so you need meetings on the fly.

But please place your hand near what’s left of your heart. Now tell me how many times you leave these meetings emitting an odd guttural noise you can’t quite identify.

You're still wondering what other figures I can offer that will make you feel queasy-breezy about meetings. Well, how about that 45 percent of all meetings are staff meetings?

This, to me, seems entirely consistent, as we Americans enjoy gazing at ourselves a touch more than we enjoy projecting to the outside world (about anything other than our selves).

Information-sharing meetings comprise just 21 percent of the total. As for those famed and deeply useful brainstorming (translation: panic-because-we-have-no-new-ideas) meetings--these are a mere 5 percent.

The numbers say that most meetings last between 31 and 60 minutes. However, there’s some suspicion that this is because most calendar apps only allow you to block off either 30 or 60 minutes for a meeting. Who, after all, can imagine that a meeting might last, say, 17 minutes?

The damage nerds have wrought may never be undone.

But no, I hear you insist, meetings are useful. The majority of people benefit from them. Perhaps those aren’t the people who said, according to these numbers, that the worst thing about meetings is that they are inconclusive.

The next worst thing? That they are poorly prepared.

I delved into some of these Attentiv findings and discovered that some relied on research performed in, oh, 2001. And did I mention that Attentiv’s raison d'être is “all about having fewer, more effective meetings and arriving at better, more informed decisions”?

Still, more recent numbers from Wolf Management Consultants declare that most professionals attend a mere 61.8 meetings a month. That 0.8 of a meeting is surely the most enjoyable. (I almost forgot to mention that 10 percent of the 11 million daily meetings in the U.S. last an alleged four hours.)

Moreover, 73 percent of attendees admit they do other work during meetings. This isn’t multitasking. It’s merely the equivalent of working at Starbucks.

I still wanted to be convinced that meetings have a future. I wanted to believe that they will, one day, become a productive joy. Where else could I turn for an answer but the World Bank?

It offered the tantalizing glory of “a scientific data-driven approach.” Yes, of course, science can find a way to explain why people are bonkers. Science just needs time. And money.

Apparently, the solution to meeting hell might involve machines speaking for us.

No, wait. The World Bank quotes research from MIT. This offered that big data can “automatically detect when during the meeting a key decision is taking place, that there are common patterns in the way social dialogue acts are interspersed throughout a meeting, that at the time key decisions are made, the amount of time left in the meeting can be predicted from the amount of time that has passed, and, finally, that it is often possible to predict whether a proposal during a meeting will be accepted or rejected, entirely on the basis of the language used by the speaker.”

Can they also predict when sentences, like meetings, become so long that you can’t remember how they started?

Meetings will always be a certain sort of purgatory, because interaction with people will always be a certain sort of purgatory.

Meetings are politics. And those who get the most out of them are those who manage the politics best of all.

I wonder what Donald Trump’s meetings are like. Shocking, awesome, and short, I imagine.

Published on: Jul 22, 2015