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Mike Elgan: How to build a time machine

Mike Elgan | Feb. 26, 2011
The real-time Internet is crowding out the future and the past. Here's what to do about it.

But they care about only the present. By ignoring the past and the future they mislead the public.

Until the real-time obsession started dumbing us all down, reporters were held accountable for following up on the stories they wrote, especially those involving promises made by politicians. And they were also responsible for researching claims to provide context.

Now they just try to win the race to post news during the tiny window when it's relevant before everybody moves on to the next context-free, consequence-free story.

The obsession with real-time data has turned us into a bunch of infants: If something isn't right in front of us right now, it doesn't exist. Peek-a-boo! Giggle! Next!

The same phenomenon that degrades journalism also impairs business.

One universal example is meetings, which represent a colossal waste of time and money precisely because they're too focused on the present rather than on the past or the future.

An effective meeting is by definition one with a clear agenda distributed in advance, which is used as a basis for preparation (i.e. research into what has happened in the past) by all attendees.

During the meeting, each decision is accompanied by action items that specific attendees are asked to carry out, with agreed-upon deadlines. Later, those who were assigned action items are held accountable for achieving -- or failing to achieve -- their commitments on time.

This is the right way to conduct meetings. Unfortunately, it's not the normal way.

Most meetings involve no agenda. Participants view the meeting as a "break" where they can shoot the bull, play politics, impress everyone with their brilliant "ideas," and avoid accountability.

Over the long term, meetings resemble the movie Groundhog Day, in which the same topics are discussed with minor variations, and nothing is ever accomplished.

Bad meetings tend to be based on what people know "right now," feel "right now" and are doing "right now." Good meetings are informed by what has been learned in the past, and are focused on accomplishing something in the future.

Another common example is the management of either people or projects. Every office has a gaggle of weasels made of Teflon, on whom no responsibility, no blame and no accountability can stick.

Let's say you get a commitment from one of these people to finish something by, say, end of day on a Friday. Wouldn't it be great to jump into your time machine, zoom to Friday and confront them? Well you can.

Virtual time travel tools can help you lead successful meetings; they can also help you manage people better and reach your own goals. In other words, they give you advantages in your career.

 

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