The Long Tail of Meetings

This tweet from friend of the ‘Lab Michael Krigsman triggered my inner economist.

krigsman.jpg

Even though I’m essentially a geek, I studied economics in college and have always been fascinated by supply, demand, utility and especially modeling that stuff with a nice tidy graph. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of Chris Anderson and his Long Tail work because it models a market driven by technology.

Michael’s tweet reminded me of the Long Tail applied to meetings. The Long Tail addresses scarcity. Before technologies like conference calling bridges, VoIP, and online conferences, meetings were constrained by the physical scarcity of conference rooms and offices. The assumption here is that due to physical scarcity, only the most important (think blockbuster) meetings were held.

Technology has again removed the scarcity constraint and allowed “consumers” access to the Long Tail of meetings. So now, meetings of all levels of importance (blockbusters, indies, B-movies, classics, etc.) can be held. The question is whether the demand follows a Pareto distribution, which would make it truly a Long Tail market.

Is there really demand for meetings? Let’s consider utility instead, which fits nicely. I have high utility for a relatively small number of meetings. In other words, think about how many meetings you really look forward to or want to attend. It follows that I have a rather low utility for a large number of meetings. Think about how many meetings you dread or you’re essentially ambivalent about attending.

I think that follows the power law distribution. The horizontal axis measures the number of meetings, and the vertical axis measures utility.

mtg_long_tail1.png

One key component of the Long Tail model is that it allows consumers access to more content that was previously unavailable due to scarcity. This is a good thing for the consumer. When applied to meetings, however, I think the conclusion is that maybe it has become too easy to hold a meeting.

That is all. Yes, this was just a very eggbertian way to complain that there are too many meetings. If you made it this far, thanks.

AboutJake

a.k.a.:jkuramot

21 comments

  1. Interesting thought there . And Indeed, many thanks to factors that led to democratization of meeting tools. But still, apart from the technology aspect I think the shift in collaborative tendencies of people in general, increasing complexities of work (which eventually means more discussion points) and decentralization of work places are key drivers of the long tail.

  2. Interesting thought there . And Indeed, many thanks to factors that led to democratization of meeting tools. But still, apart from the technology aspect I think the shift in collaborative tendencies of people in general, increasing complexities of work (which eventually means more discussion points) and decentralization of work places are key drivers of the long tail.

  3. Personally I’m still stuck in the Web1.0 meeting paradigm: lots of people gathered together in a single room. This model usually means that there is usually a chunk of the meeting which I’m interested in and a much bigger chunk that doesn’t concern me. But I still have to be in the room, because the interesting bits are sprinkled throughout the meeting: more curate’s egg than long tail.

    The appeal of virtual meetings is that by abolishing the need to be physically co-located we can be mentally absent too. We can get on with something useful while keeping a weather eye/ear on the meeting’s stream. Of course, the useful task mustn’t be something too important (no brain surgery, bomb defusing or tweak data in the production database). But anything would be more productive than abstract doodling in the margins of a notebook.

    Cheers, APC

  4. Personally I’m still stuck in the Web1.0 meeting paradigm: lots of people gathered together in a single room. This model usually means that there is usually a chunk of the meeting which I’m interested in and a much bigger chunk that doesn’t concern me. But I still have to be in the room, because the interesting bits are sprinkled throughout the meeting: more curate’s egg than long tail.

    The appeal of virtual meetings is that by abolishing the need to be physically co-located we can be mentally absent too. We can get on with something useful while keeping a weather eye/ear on the meeting’s stream. Of course, the useful task mustn’t be something too important (no brain surgery, bomb defusing or tweak data in the production database). But anything would be more productive than abstract doodling in the margins of a notebook.

    Cheers, APC

  5. I’m right there with APC – stuck in Web 1.0 meeting purgatory. In addition, the meeting frequency is so high that it’s difficult to find time for “hands on” work during traditional office hours. Despite the all-too-infrequent tidbit of info I might care about, I emerge from most meetings in my shop feeling as though I’ve been through a virtual lobotomy. My point: it’s not just the number of meetings and the physical presence aspect that is disturbing, it’s also the length and quality of those meetings.

  6. I’m right there with APC – stuck in Web 1.0 meeting purgatory. In addition, the meeting frequency is so high that it’s difficult to find time for “hands on” work during traditional office hours. Despite the all-too-infrequent tidbit of info I might care about, I emerge from most meetings in my shop feeling as though I’ve been through a virtual lobotomy. My point: it’s not just the number of meetings and the physical presence aspect that is disturbing, it’s also the length and quality of those meetings.

  7. Interesting, maybe my model only applies to distributed workforces like ours. Although I would argue that scarcity does have an impact. When I worked in the glass towers at HQ, we routinely had to work around a scarcity in conference rooms.

    One interesting difference APC and Floyd note is the number of attendees seems to be high vs. what I see in meetings. We tend toward a smaller number of people, so maybe that’s the long tail, or maybe it’s a function of distribution again, i.e. no ad hoc huddling.

    Either way, it’s fun to complain about meetings. One wonders how much work could be done if there weren’t so many.

  8. Interesting, maybe my model only applies to distributed workforces like ours. Although I would argue that scarcity does have an impact. When I worked in the glass towers at HQ, we routinely had to work around a scarcity in conference rooms.

    One interesting difference APC and Floyd note is the number of attendees seems to be high vs. what I see in meetings. We tend toward a smaller number of people, so maybe that’s the long tail, or maybe it’s a function of distribution again, i.e. no ad hoc huddling.

    Either way, it’s fun to complain about meetings. One wonders how much work could be done if there weren’t so many.

  9. Since we have wi-fi in the glass towers at HQ there has been another shift. I can be physically present yet mentally absent, I can sift through my emails instead of doodling in the margins. People take laptops to meetings and more recently we’re all busy on our iPhones in meetings.

  10. Since we have wi-fi in the glass towers at HQ there has been another shift. I can be physically present yet mentally absent, I can sift through my emails instead of doodling in the margins. People take laptops to meetings and more recently we’re all busy on our iPhones in meetings.

  11. It goes back to what APC mentioned; we need to be present for a part of the meeting, but then tune the rest of the meeting out. The only solution to these mass meetings would be, ironically, MORE meetings. It’s better to get all the parties together, hold a single meeting, and tune out on laptops and smartphones on occasion so that you can do some real work (or, alternatively, tweet).

  12. It goes back to what APC mentioned; we need to be present for a part of the meeting, but then tune the rest of the meeting out. The only solution to these mass meetings would be, ironically, MORE meetings. It’s better to get all the parties together, hold a single meeting, and tune out on laptops and smartphones on occasion so that you can do some real work (or, alternatively, tweet).

  13. I go to meetings knowing only 15 minutes of the hour will be relevant, if I know when that 15 minutes will be I will show up just for that part. I have no problem walking out of a meeting half way through if the remainder of the agenda is not relevant. Most of the time I don’t know when the relevant part is coming, so the iPhone comes in handy.

  14. I go to meetings knowing only 15 minutes of the hour will be relevant, if I know when that 15 minutes will be I will show up just for that part. I have no problem walking out of a meeting half way through if the remainder of the agenda is not relevant. Most of the time I don’t know when the relevant part is coming, so the iPhone comes in handy.

  15. I think meetings should be 30 minutes. I saw somewhere that 30 minute meetings force you to be more focused and on time, i.e. you fear missing the important 25%.

    This post was more musing than serious.

  16. I think meetings should be 30 minutes. I saw somewhere that 30 minute meetings force you to be more focused and on time, i.e. you fear missing the important 25%.

    This post was more musing than serious.

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