The Innovation Consultant and the Marathon Meeting of Diminishing Returns

by Josh Roberts

Everyone has been to a marathon meeting.

It’s the day-long discussion during which several business challenges will be overcome in distinctly compartmentalized blocks of time. We will be there all day. We will be full of energy. We will be productive.

Lunch will be catered.

I recently participated in the majority of a marathon meeting. The well-articulated agenda started at 8:15 and the session was to last all day. Breaks were scheduled at regular intervals and copious amounts of sugar-based snacks were provided.
The only difference between my experience and that of the dozen or so other participants is that I left for an hour and a half in the middle of the day. The meeting that I had left and the one to which I returned to were wildly different affairs.

The energetic, vibrant group from the morning had been replaced by long faces held in tired hands, propped up by wide-set elbows resting heavily on tables. The droopy eyes of participants had no sparkle; they were speaking slowly, with less chatter.

Maybe your opinion on marathon meetings is different than mine, but I believe that – unless you are careful – they become a waste of time starting somewhere around hour three. There are, however, a few easy ways to make your marathon meeting productive all the way through to the finish line:

  1. Prepare for success. Don’t waste time and sap energy at the beginning of the day by reviewing excessive amounts of data that can be distributed before your marathon meeting. Give participants the level-setting information they need in advance.
  2. Create some fun. Injecting some play into serious work will help engagement and energy levels. Draw pictures, tell stories, and create dream scenarios about your business challenges to make things interesting.
  3. Enjoy the intermission. Plowing through one agenda item to the next never gives participant brains a break. Have a guest come in to provide insight by reacting to ideas already generated and talk about how the business challenge affects their job.
  4. Play musical chairs. Sitting in the same seat with the same perspective while having the same conversation is tedious. Move your meeting participants around in your or a different space, break out into smaller groups to dedicate time to precise problem solving.

You wouldn’t force your body to run a marathon of 26.2 miles without proper training, nourishment, and recovery. In the best case scenario, you would perform poorly. In the worst case, you would end up seriously injured or ill. Putting your body through that kind of stress without proper preparation is dangerous.

Stop doing the equivalent to your brain.