Steve Jobs’s lessons on how to have great meetings

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What I Learned About Great Meetings from Steve Jobs

The principle of keeping meetings small and made up of smart people is deeply woven into the religion of electronics behemoth Apple
and is key to any organization that wants to nurture quality thinking.
The idea is pretty basic: Everyone in the room should be there for a
reason. There's no such thing as a mercy invitation. Either you're
critical to the meeting or you're not. It's nothing personal, just

Apple co-founder, the late Steve Jobs,
actively resisted any behavior he believed representative of the way
big companies think — even though Apple had been a big company for many
years. When he called a meeting or reported to a meeting, his
expectation was that everyone in the room would be an essential
participant. Spectators were not welcome.

This was based on the somewhat obvious idea that a smaller group
would be more focused and motivated than a large group, and smarter
people will do higher quality work.

For a principle that would seem to be common sense, it's surprising
how many organizations fail to observe it. How many overpopulated
meetings do you sit through during the course of a year? How many of
those meetings get sidetracked or lose focus in a way that would never
occur if the group were half the size? The small-group rule requires
enforcement, but it's worth the cost.

Related: Seven Ways to Kill Your Meetings and Unleash Productivity

One reason why large, unwieldy groups tend to be created in many
companies is that the culture of a company is bigger than any one
person. It's hard to change "the way we do things here."

What I Learned About Great Meetings from Steve Jobs

Apple keeps meetings small and focused

At Apple, because quality is stressed over quantity, meetings are
informal and visible progress is made on a weekly — if not daily —

In one large technology
company with which I worked, I found a framed sign in every conference
room designed to nudge the employees toward greater productivity. The
headline on the sign was how to have a successful meeting. The content
read like it came right out of a corporate manual, which it likely did.
It featured a bullet-pointed list of things like "State the agenda at
the start of your meeting," "Encourage participation by all attendees,"
and "Conclude your meeting with agreement on next steps."

Related: 10 Things to Thank Steve Jobs For

If big companies really feel compelled to put something on their walls, a better sign might read:

How to Have a Great Meeting

1. Throw out the least necessary person at the table.
2. Walk out of this meeting if it lasts more than 30 minutes.
3. Do something productive today to make up for the time you spent here.

Whatever your motivation, what you're really saying is that you don't
have the right people on the job. So fix that. When populated by the
smartest people, small groups will give management more confidence, not

Apple's advertising agency — Chiat/Day, before it merged with TBWA
Worldwide — succeeded by the same philosophy. I was a creative
director, and our small group matched up well with Apple's small group.
Limiting the size of our group helped us produce work quickly, get
information fast and have the agility to react to unexpected events.

Related: Four Tools for Improving Office Collaboration

The agency's founder, the late Jay Chiat, had set a similar tone
decades earlier. Jay and Steve had a unique relationship in the days of
the original Macintosh. I had the pleasure of being personally ejected
from a meeting by Jay during one of my several stints at Chiat/Day.
Surveying the room before the start of a meeting, Jay took one look at
my art director partner and me and said, "What are you guys doing here?"
"Beats me," I said. "We're just responding to the invitation." Jay told
us to get out and "go create something."

The working styles of both Jay and Steve have stuck with me over the
years. I can think of no better examples of leaders with a talent for
keeping their teams focused on the mission and focused on producing
great results. And both built spectacularly successful businesses. It's
not a coincidence.

This article is an edited excerpt from Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success (Portfolio/Penguin, 2012) by Ken Segall.

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