In this edition, Livio reflects on the cognitive deficit of leaders, the undying corporate addiction to meetings, and why these are terrible for getting important stuff done.

Reading & learning are not just ‘nice to haves’

There are plenty of reasons why time to learn and concentration are scarce commodities in today’s corporate environments. Leaders have always demanded simplification (“great strategy… can you send me a one-pager?”), but I often wonder why this is an acceptable corporate behaviour.

Leaders are busy people of course, so clear and concise messaging makes perfect sense if you are trying to get their attention – so much so that the higher up the chain you go, the simpler your messaging needs to be. But the one-pager syndrome also pervades the rest of the organisation, to the point that even managers or workers with specific implementation responsibilities now also routinely balk at having to engage with the details they need to do their job effectively.

Dealing with complex challenges – digital transformation, capabilities development, org redesign, innovation, etc. – demands a span of attention longer than 30 seconds and the willingness to actually read and learn stuff. Can we really blame this pervasive cognitive deficit on the distracting effects of digital technology and Covid? If you’re responsible for delivering a transformation program, absorbing detail is a key part of your job and you really should make time for it or risk becoming irrelevant – no learning, no future.

The unbearable pointlessness of meetings

Despite the UK Cabinet trying to fool us into thinking that Covid has disappeared, the future of work being hybrid continues to be a safe prediction (e.g., see this latest data from Gallup), as employers take a sensible view of coping with both the ongoing pandemic and the changing expectations of office workers.

One of the side effects of more remote or hybrid work has been to shine a very bright light on a corporate open secret: in the absence of better practices, meetings remain the default coordination method for most work. During the early lockdowns and to this day, many organisations have simply kept this meeting addiction and super-charged it with Teams or Zoom meetings. As a result, the time spent in (now mostly online) meetings has actually increased, pushing any time for productive work to early mornings (the time we used to spend commuting) or late nights (the time we should be recharging).

Like the cholesterol from too many business lunches, meetings clog the arteries of productivity and eventually kill any motivation to get things done. Everyone complains about how much of a waste of time meetings are, but few have the courage to call them out as a fundamentally pointless exercise.

Basic guidance on using digital workplace tools to plan, collaborate and execute asynchronously can quickly reduce the number of reporting or project meetings, leaving real-time conversations for sense-making, co-creation or those crunch interactions for which there is no async substitute.

But no matter how much we try to engineer a digital solution, just as in psychotherapy, the subject needs to admit to the problem and must want to change. Digital tools alone will not do this, which is why I liked Sam Spurlin’s post on using deliberate patterns as an alternative to trying to change negative habits. Sam has started tackling some common challenges in his Notion library, which provides inspiration to anyone trying to apply some of these principles to reduce their addiction to meetings.

Sign up for Social Now in Lisbon

After some inevitable Covid-related disruptions, our good friend Ana Neves is once again organizing the excellent Social Now event in Lisbon, scheduled for May 19-20. Now in its 9th edition, the event is focused on social tools and building high-performance teams, but will also appeal more widely to HR, OD and L&D people. Some super speakers are lined up – Céline Schillinger, Rachel Happe, Sharon O’Dea and many others – and Lisbon is gorgeous in May, so why not sign up? You can find out more here.