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Roger Martin

Roger Martin

Roger Martin is Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and author, most recently, of The Design of Business. His website is www.rogerlmartin.com

Idea Creation, Not Message Broadcast

I divide meetings into two big buckets: broadcast and generative. I largely refuse to hold or attend broadcast meetings and try to have all meetings with which I am associated be generative.

A broadcast meeting is one in which people are brought into the same room at the same time - i.e. synchronously - for a message (or messages) to be broadcast to them. Sadly, I think of Principals and Deans meetings at my own University as being reasonably apt examples of this. First there is broadcast and then we go around the room and anyone who wants to respond to the broadcast with a little broadcast of their own does so and those who made the initial broadcast collect up the feedback and hopefully do something useful with it. The key is that there isn't a planned and organized way for the individuals hearing the broadcast to talk to each other to build something new in the meeting.

That would make it a generative meeting - a meeting designed for the participants to generate through the dialogue something that didn't exist before the meeting and wouldn't come into existence except through the dialogue. Generative meetings have always been extremely valuable because, in a sense, they generate new intellectual property that comes about because of the real-time interplay between the minds of intelligent people.

Broadcast meetings used to make a lot more sense than they do know. And the absolute key to the change is information technology. Not long ago, it would have been slow and kludgy to send out a paper memo to (for example) each member of Principals and Deans and wait to collect their paper responses. So getting them all in a room, and broadcasting the memo and collecting the responses in real time made some sense.

Now with ubiquitous email, that can easily been done with a broadcast email and the collection of email responses - which copy everyone easily so everyone is informed of every thought. And in a busy world, that means that a bunch of busy people don't have to show up physically in the same room at the same time (with associated travel costs) to engage synchronously when an asynchronous dialogue will accomplish the same ends.

So really, the broadcast meeting is obsolete. It has been replaced with a wholly superior technology. In the modern world, holding a broadcast meeting is largely a waste of time.

However, generative meetings have never been more important. They provide an opportunity to solve complicated problems with the application of multiple brains. But they require careful thought and planning. There has to be a generative purpose - i.e. a purpose that necessitates the combination of brainpower of meeting members to produce a solution -- and a meeting process and format that makes a generative outcome possible. The latter takes real planning and skilled leadership. Unfortunately, most meetings are still run on the tried-and-true broadcast platform and that is why the majority of people think that meetings are generally a waste of time. They don't have to be, but they generally are.

By Roger Martin

 |  October 15, 2009; 4:21 PM ET
Category:  Leadership personalities Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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