Let’s (not) meet

I can’t let this week pass without marking an anniversary — six years with no meetings.

I left Shandwick six years ago, starting my independent business on April Fool’s Day, 2001. Fitting.

I got a great education at Mona Meyer McGrath and Gavin/Shandwick, and I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing today without the experience and wisdom given to me by the great people there. But after 12 years, it was time to go on my own.

I don’t miss meetings — herding a bunch of people into a room, sucking the oxygen out and slogging through an agenda like Russian soldiers trudging across the winter steppes. Meetings reinforce status quo. People put stuff on the agenda that are seldom the things people really need to wrestle with — you don’t often talk about problems that are bedeviling the place; new, half-baked ideas; insights gained rather than tasks completed; surprising things people have done that should be analyzed so the smart stuff can be shared; screwups to be looked at openly and learned from; how people are feeling. How things have always been done rules meetings because meetings are run the way they’ve always been run. Initiative, creativity, iconoclasm and joy slink out the door as people hunker down to just get through. Meetings are terrible ways to pass on information, and they seldom come anywhere close to touching the reasons people are working or the vision of the organization they form.

Yes, I meet with clients and partners from other agencies or other consultants, but those are small gatherings focused on a specific issue and they’re blessedly efficient and short. Or they include rum.

(BTW, meetings in newspapers and the PR business are joyrides compared to meetings in academia — I taught for four years at Mankato State University and meetings there were like hospitalizations, slow ways to drag out boredom and pain.)

I do miss learning from working next to other people. People who work independently tend to miss the fun stuff about gathering with a bunch of colleagues and friends at a workplace, but the bigger thing we miss out on is seeing how others do things, stealing ideas, and having your own ideas improved upon by others as you talk things through. The danger of working alone is that you pull off the same tricks and don’t get much feedback, criticism and challenge. You have to do your own critique of your work and invite criticism from clients. And you have to work to expose yourself to new things.

But the independence of choosing your own clients and work and of doing things in your own style at your own pace is wonderful. If you want to try something new, you try it. If you want to stop doing something, you stop. If you want to say something, you don’t have to wonder if the organization you’re part of will be OK with what you say. If you screw up, you’ve got no one else to blame and you fix it quick in your own way.

Since going on my own, I’ve talked with many friends who’ve been thinking about hanging out their own shingle, and many have done it. The scary part is not knowing if you’ll have any business and income next month — but then what security is there in organizations these days, especially those that answer to the bloated speculators on Wall Street? Some career experts say we should all work as if we’re independent contractors, all take charge of our own jobs as if they’re our own businesses. When that’s actually the case, it’s enormously clarifying. And you can skip the meetings.

I do, however, miss the health insurance. But that’s a small price to pay for freedom.

– Bruce Benidt

5 thoughts on “Let’s (not) meet

  1. John Gaterud says:

    The worst. Thanks, Bruce.

    You left MSU 23 years ago — escaped with some of your wit(s) intact — while I have remained captive to the very health insurance you miss. Mad. Madness. What a moron.

    Just this week: a frickin fight over whether we should have a meeting to discuss what happened at another meeting last week and whether another meeting next week might be necessary to talk about this week some more — that is, if anybody’s talking to each other.

    What status quo?

    Read Heller, any day, any book, any page. Good as any Kafka.

    “I get the willies when I see closed doors.” (Something Happened)

    Thanks for the rant. I’ve forwarded your comments to some friends at the shop — so now we’ll all feel better, guaranteed.

    Reminds me again why I visit other galaxies late at night.

    Best to all,
    JG

  2. John Gaterud, a great writer and editor (and perhaps a moron) years ago wrote an American classic of desperation humor called “The Faculty Minutes.”

    Anybody out there in academia should ask him for a copy.

  3. TH says:

    COMMITTEES:

    A group of the unwilling
    recruited from the unfit
    to do the unnecessary

    – Medical Device Guru Thomas Fogerty, MD

  4. Becky Lentz says:

    I’m bringing TH’s posting to my next meeting.

    As if to live its public perception as bureaucratic, The University of Minnesota has a Committee on Committees.

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