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