The Best Meetings Happen Around The Block

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

The Best Meetings Happen Around The Block

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]


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.