Meeting Mr Burkeman

I’ve been in too many meetings recently.

I’m sure you have, too.

I don’t need to be a mind-reader to know this. If you’ve been in one meeting, you’ve probably been in too many.

Because most meetings in advertising only move the game backwards.

A few months ago, one of my favourite writers, Oliver Burkeman, wrote in the Guardian about The Law of Triviality – whereby if executives have to talk about two new projects in a meeting – say, an atomic reactor and a company bike shed – they will spend a lot more time on the second topic.

The first is complicated and frighteningly expensive, and you risk all sorts of things if you try to make a point.

So the atomic reactor is covered in a couple of minutes.

But the bike shed can be debated for two and a half hours, “then deferred for decision to the next meeting, pending the gathering of more information”.

Ring any bells ?

Ding dong merrily on high, of course it does …

But there are other problems in meetings. As Mr Burkeman wrote in another column, there is this thing which the Greeks call “akrasia” – deciding on the best course of action, and then doing something else.

Most meetings are a crash course in akrasia.

Specifically, there’s the meeting where the first half is spent exploring exciting new possibiities and the second half is spent making sure that none of those possibilities is followed up on.

Of course, meetings are supposed to about making decisions – but try telling that to a meeting of marketing minds.

The only place most marketing minds meet is in agreeing not to make a decision.

Partly because agencies don’t always want to sell ideas (their remuneration is based on the number of meetings they have) and clients are cautious about buying anything because if it doesn’t work, they’re in trouble.

My Burkeman (again) recommends the 37% rule.

So for instance if you are looking to buy a flat, reject the first 37% then pick the first one after that which is better than them. Or if none that follow are any better, pick the best one from the first lot.

Which sounds pretty random, but is better than enjoying a range of good ideas and then infallibly picking the worst.

But I always feel at my absolute lowest shortly after a meeting has finished.

It’s not like the sexual guilt described by William Shakespeare as “the expense of spirit in a waste of shame” – and which involves tidying away the handcuffs and wiping up the chocolate sauce – it’s a feeling that one has irrevocably and irredeemably thrown away the last three hours of one’s life and only made things worse.

(Although that can happen after sex as well.)

At which point, the only meagre joy lies in finding the right word to describe the asininity of the lead individuals involved.

Was he a “dick” or an “asshole” ?

There’s an important distinction.

Was she a “bitch” or “moron” ?

Very important to know.

Precision matters in these instances, and brings its own rewards.

As Mr Oliver Burkeman (quoted for the last time ever by me, in 2012) put it: “We can presumably all agree that Simon Cowell is a bit of a tosser. But his success makes it hard to dismiss him as a f*ckwit, while it’s not clear he’s guilty of the malice that would condemn him as a sh*t”.

Wise words, indeed.

And I’m sure very comforting to Mr Cowell.

Happy Christmas to all of you. There may have been a few  knobwipes, fenceshitters and fartheads along the way. But through the Christmas fug, it seems like they’re a small minority.

And 2013 is another year  …..

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