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Why it makes sense to have conversations, not meetings

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Tony Golsby-Smith says informal conversations are often a better way to get people thinking creatively, but companies prefer formal meetings.

He says:

“They are too formal and filled with data-focused PowerPoint presentations. (In one corporation I know of, the average presentation for strategy sessions in a single business unit is over 400 slides long.) And nobody addresses the real issues; they nit-pick and criticize instead. The net effect: everyone’s imagination is suffocated, and they lose sight of the big picture. When that happens, organizations run the risk of failure.”

He says conversations are not about moving through an agenda but involve a full range of thinking and exploring issues. They are different from brainstorming which is about solving problems.

Yet he says holding more conversations and fewer meetings will get problems solved.

What do we mean by conversation?

Golsby-Smith:

“A conversation is informal. As the great German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer said, you only have a conversation when you don’t know the outcome at the beginning.

“Think about a conversation you have with a friend over a cup of coffee. It flows from one topic to another; ideas spark spontaneously.

“A conversation is alive and interesting, and sometimes even a little dangerous.

“A conversation is a creative process. A conversation is not about walking through an agenda. It is a journey that takes people through the full range of thinking, not just a problem at hand. In a conversation, people explore issues, invent solutions, and find ways forward through messy circumstances.

“The broad scope of a conversation differentiates it from “brainstorming,” which only focuses on generating solutions. Brainstorming can’t help you address wicked problems like a military engagement in Afghanistan or a messy merger.”

Hold Conversations, Not Meetings – Tony Golsby-Smith Harvard Business Review.

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