Meetings, Boredom, and Alleviation of the Latter


This has been a reeeaalllly long week. I think the main reason is that, for some reason, it has been awash with a raft of meetings; nay, a plethora of mind-numbing, butt-dulling, monotonic, informationless, mosquito-droning, verbally vapid, “’I must talk just because I must hear my voice” meetings. Admit it, you’ve been there.
I’m sure most were important, but I would never be called for the defense to support such a contention because I was so quickly bored out of what little is left of my mind that I let it wander as it would amongst thoughts much more pleasant than whatever the topic of “concern” was. And in those wonderings, I chanced to revisit a book – Lessons from the Art of Juggling by Michael Gelb and Tony Buzan– that I first read many, many years ago. (How many years ago? Well, the book was published in 1994 – so it’s been a while.)
Now, I could spend the rest of this posting providing you my valuable insights on how the book does a nice job of applying the lessons of learning to juggle to learning anything, of how it draws parallels between juggling and various elements of personal and professional life, of how the authors have developed “The Juggling Metaphor” for use in any discipline, all of which it does and does so quite nicely. I would be more than happy to do that, but right now I’ve got a whole different set of balls I want to toss in the air.
Sidebar: I have always wanted to juggle. I have never learned to juggle. That is part of the reason I bought and read this book so long ago. I enjoyed the descriptions on development and leadership, but I inhaled the lessons on juggling. Interesting thing, though – to learn how to juggle, you can’t just read a book; you’ve actually got to throw some balls in the air. Which I didn’t do.
Now we move our sidebar forward to my office a year or so ago. I happened to notice the book on my shelf at work. I also realized I had gotten a set of juggling balls as some vendor’s promotion at some IIA conference a while before that (probably snapped up with the thought “Aha. Now I will be a juggler!”). And so began my on-and-off approach of passing time in meetings (audio conferences where I couldn’t be seen) by trying to learn to juggle.
And now, we return to the present day. The on-and-off is back “on” this week. (Did I mention the new pinnacles of mindlessness this week’s meetings seemed to reach?) And, after all this time and all this practice I can, occasionally, do one cycle – three balls thrown and caught. Every once in a while I get a fourth one. Apparently, I have next to no talent for this art. However, I’ve got to do something during these meetings to keep from leaping to my death from this second story window.
Which leads to the broader discussion. Over the years, our department has come up with a number of ways to help pass our time in these meetings. The dart board in the department has been used for various, instantly-invented dart variations (and, no, we have yet to put anyone’s pictures on the board – though it has indeed crossed our minds.) We have a button purchased from Disneyland that, when particularly questionable comments are made, we press to hear it say (in the voice of Scar) “I’m surrounded by idiots.” For a while we had one of those automatic ball-returning putting greens (and, as further proof just how bored we were, it is important to point out that very few of us golf.) And I would be remiss if I didn’t describe one of our favorite games. Prior to the meeting, we select a phrase with the idea that the winner is the first one who can work it into the conversation in a way that fits the discussion naturally. Most recently, we were choosing Greek references like “That is a Scylla or Charybdis decision” or “He has a Sisyphusian task.”
Let’s face it, maintaining your sanity often has to do with going just a little bit insane. And nothing can drive you as insane as the hours of meetings we all put up with. Some day we might use our time in one of these posts to talk about how to make meetings more effective. But for now, let’s just revel in the joy of finding a way to escape them.
So tell me, when people walk past your meeting room and see you on a teleconference, what might they catch you doing to escape?

Posted on Feb 25, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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