Why meetings are killing innovation

Busy schedule

The average manager’s workday is divided into one hour blocks. This is not due to humans naturally working best in one hour increments but because meetings, those seemingly necessary events that seem to dominate the days of office workers everywhere, tend to be scheduled in one hour blocks.

Diaries covered in meetings have become so common, that most people have probably either made or heard the comment, “I feel like I didn’t actually get any work done today – I spent the whole day in meetings”.

Days that are scheduled into hourly increments, otherwise know as the Manager’s Schedule, are killing innovation. Those trying to innovate and create valuable new products and services to launch into the world, need time to significant blocks of time create. Paul Graham, co-founder of Silicon Valley Incubator Y Combinator, refers to this time as the “Maker’s Schedule”.

Makers need to schedule their days in half day blocks, given getting properly into a task – or into the “zone” – takes at least half an hour. And if days are blocked out in hourly chunks, it means by the time makers have become immersed in a task, they will probably be interrupted shortly after by a meeting.

There are several steps to maximising how time is scheduled at work.

1. Figure out whether you are you a maker, a manager, or both.

Not every person is a maker – that is, someone whose job requires them to think and work deeply to create innovations. Some people are makers only part of the time. Others are both managers and makers. And some are purely managers and are not involved in the creation of new things.

Reflecting what is required within a person’s role is the first and very important step to optimising the schedule of a working day. Makers need to diarise large, half day chunks of time to focus on getting into the zone and making. And ideally, this time should be in the morning. In contrast, managers can continue to operate in hourly chunks effectively.

2. If you are a maker, block out times to make.

The biggest obstacle for makers is that the typical organisation operates on the Manager’s Schedule. Days are divided into hourly increments. Makers need to educate those setting meetings on the importance of having maker time. Setting routines such as blocking out all morning for maker time can be helpful in ensuring makers have time to make.

3. If you are a manager, respect Maker Time.

If you are a manager, respect that forcing everyone else to operate on your schedule is probably killing innovation – or forcing people to make innovation their night job. If managers are constantly sending meeting invitations to makers dispersed all over the course of a working day, then it is unlikely that makers will find any decent chunks of time to make things. Which either means innovation won’t happen, or it will need to be completed after hours – neither of which are ideal.

Spending time deliberately thinking about the way in which time scheduling works will help organisations avoid inadvertently killing innovation with one hour meetings.


About the author

Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium, an innovation consultancy that only uses tools that have been scientifically proven to work. Her latest book, The Innovation Formula, tackles the topic of how organisations can create a culture where innovation thrives. Her previous contributions to Dynamic Business include What happened when we banned email for a day