don’t you like the meetings of work? You’re not alone. Steve Jobs despised them. He was known to cancel meetings if he didn’t see a clear purpose for them. He preferred teleworking short meetings, about 10 minutes and focused on specific objectives. And it was like that for a simple reason: he hated this trend of talking and talking without reaching any clear conclusion. A “damn distraction for the engineers”, as he came to point out on more than one occasion.
This maxim was something that he made explicit throughout his career: concerned about the productivity and efficiency of the company, he went so far as to say that having fewer people working in the company was a clear benefit to maintaining quality over quantity. However, Apple never stopped extending its arms, producing and selling more iPhones and each year introducing more products, both in its line of hardware and services (iCloud, Apple TV+, Apple Music Classical…).
Meetings kill creativity
Day of meetings, day thrown away. This is a message that has permeated and that, unfortunately, is supported by real figures: the meetings, on too many occasions, they are unproductive. So we can understand that Steve Jobs’ contempt for them was not a pose, but a real combative act.
In the biographical novel ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson, on page 434, an interview with BusinessWeek dating from 1997 is glossed where Jobs makes it clear what he thinks of work meetings:
“Meetings are one of the worst things in today’s company. They are terrible. Meetings interrupt work, break momentum, kill creativity. And it’s hours and hours of wasted time.”
Thursday, day without work meetings
That “they kill creativity” is capital in a company where the creative flow is essential to stay one step ahead of your rivals. In order to avoid this situation, she designed a model. This is the letter he sent internally:
Our company is founded on the principle that a few people can produce a brutal product if they are not limited by:
- a) having to convince a larger organization of what they know is right
- b) if they can spend their personal time designing, marketing or whatever, instead of managing others to do these tasks less well.
Note the sardonic tone and a certain revulsion towards the scale of power —or directly that veiled shot at the ignominious sensation of dealing with investors and profiles who are unaware of the “art of creating”. As it was, the letter does not remain only on the surface and raises the following:
To stay true to this principle, I propose the following two ideas:
- We all need time to work individually without interruption. Meetings (with suppliers, interviews…) are reducing our individual time and the productivity of our engineers is being affected. I move that we reserve every Thursday as a day with no gatherings of any kind.. Thursday is our day, a day in which we metaphorically close the doors to the outside world and quietly work individually.
- As we review our staffing requirements (and subsequently budgets) downward, I encourage you to remember that there is a fine line that, when crossed in increasing staff, makes you a manager rather than a contributor or team leader. I think if we become managers instead of “doers” both our schedule and the “greatness” of our product will suffer. Let’s not let this happen! It’s better to have fewer people, even if it means doing less. Let’s build our company slowly and carefully.
In typical Jobs sneer, the letter closed with “let’s discuss these two ideas at our staff meeting tomorrow.” It is relevant to attend to the tone and the form – that “Let’s not let this happen!” so combative—but even more so in ideas that he would pursue his entire career. Ideas that he would end up modeling in the following format, as reported by the Inc media:
- Meetings with few staff, from 3 to 5 people. If there are too many people, there will be misunderstandings, side-talks, and chaos.
- short agenda with no more than 3 items on the agenda. Three points is better than five if you close each point. The one that covers a lot…
- short meetings, no more than 30 minutes and with a clear structure.
Top image: David Paul Morris for Getty Images
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