The Best Meetings Happen Around The Block

Because a bunch of people slumping into their iPhones never got anything done anyway.

Are tweets, statuses, pins, pokes, and pixels dominating your life? This week, as part of our #unplug series, we're re-posting some of our favorite stories from the archives, with a special focus on the beauty of a tech break, the power of analog, and how a little quiet can kickstart creativity.

Nilofer Merchant doesn't hold back. Whether she's defining the rules of the social era or giving TED talks, the CEO turned thinkfluencer is naming our maladies. In her sights? What you're probably doing right now—sitting.

"We spend more time sitting (average 9.3 hours a day) than sleeping (7.7 hours)," she recently wrote for Wired, "and it doesn’t even occur to us that this is not OK."

Sitting, Merchant says, is becoming the new smoking. It's killing us, making us look bad, and is not even necessary.

What we need is a little design thinking about what we use meetings for. If you're meeting one on one, Merchant argues, you're trying to explore ideas, connect with each other, and develop shared purpose—all of which are well suited to a side-by-side walk more than a suffocatingly bland conference room.

We need to be more active in our working lives. We need the walk-n-talk.

Is it even possible?

Yes, we can. And if you do go analog, you'll be with the people that you're meeting with, rather than your mesmerizing device. Still you might have a few objections to walking and talking, which Merchant has anticipated:

  • How will we take notes?
  • What about my beloved whiteboard?
  • What about my cell reception?

What's interesting, Merchant notes, is the technological motivation of these complaints—one which falls apart under scrutiny. If you're on a device, Merchant reminds us, you're probably not taking notes. You're probably on your email or looking for something clever to tweet. And while we most certainly are dividing our attention between screens and humans, we're not engaging with anyone around us.

It's like being at a dinner date where everyone keeps their iPhones on the table (gag). If you want to actually be with the people you're sharing a space with, you need to put the phones away. And unencumbered by "meeting artifacts," Merchant says you can better build relationships, which is key to doing business today:

Ultimately, it’s the absence of a device that lets me be present and listen with full attention. I believe this attention is the currency of our current work/life era; what efficiency was to the industrial era, relationships are to the social era. Walking without technology keeps our attention—and relationship—bank balance high.

It's just walking and talking. And there isn't even a subscription fee.

Have analog meetings helped you work better? Let us know in the comments.

Kill Your Meeting Room—The Future’s in Walking and Talking

Drake Baer covers leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Cedward Brice]

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  • kimble.kate

    Love this concept! My team has started taking our daily morning meeting outside when weather permits. The route puts a limit on our time, it refreshes everyone, and it's noticeably changed the way we communicate - both during meetings and throughout the day.

  • Deb Taylor

    It is nice to see that somethings that I have been thinking and trying to put into my own life are being felt by others as well.

  • This article makes perfect sense. Thank you for giving us inspiring ideas that are very do-able in daily life.

    I realized that when walking into one direction you don't have to feel guilty for not looking someone in the eye - because after all, you're "shoulder-to-shoulder". This drives a different conversation than face-to-face or 2014-style: face-to-screen-to-face. I feel the conversation is more likely to head into "one direction." Just like when you decide to sit on the same side of the table in a regular chairs&table meeting. The walk 'n talk is even more powerful because it includes a changing environment. It's a dynamic conversation.

    Instead of a 30 min sitting-meeting you could easily do a 30 min walk. No need to hurry. How often do we think that if we hurry we will be at our future sooner, while in fact, it just causes us to lose our focus on the present.

    We owe the present moment attention. -Abha Dawesar