For a time (a goodly time, actually; actually, more than ten years, starting around 1985) I explored how what I had learned about games and play could be applied to business and work. I had always thought of games as a kind of, well, meeting. This had a lot to do with Marty Buber and a book he shared with me called I and Thou. (So, OK, so it’s not that I knew Marty or anything, or that I actually called him “Marty” and not “Martin,” or that he personally leant me a copy. But, you know, it was like I knew him, like we had been in, well, dialog, finding his book. And it wasn’t like I actually read it, but more or less dipped a conceptual toe in it, from time to time.) It reached me deeply, this little, very profound book. And in it he used the term “meetings” to describe something very much like what happens when people play with each other. “All real living,” said Martin, “is meeting.” And yes, I said to myself, yes, when we are playing together, it’s more like real living than anything else we do together. And it’s very much like meeting each other, entirely, deeply, totally.

And, for me, the connections between work and play were made everywhere evident by watching kids playing at work, or working at play.

And I had, in fact, experienced some meetings that were, at least ostensibly, all about play. They were called teambuilding meetings. And, for the most part, they were fun, and games were played.

And about this time, when I was reading Buber and playing with kids and attending teambuilding meetings, I was also play/working with a software tool, now known as an “outliner,” using it to play with ideas for games, doing something very much like brainstorming and then making connections between the various flashes, assembling them into bright ideas, so to speak – a process I came to know as “collect, connect, correct.”

It seemed obvious to me that if I could somehow process with people who were working (not building teams) together, I could do for them the very thing I was doing for myself. So I found a computer projector (I think at that time there was only one available), called a Limelight), and had my Mac 128 modified so that I could use the projector, and started making the rounds. I lived in Silicon Valley at the time, where many meetings were going on, and many of them were actually for the purpose of getting things done (a distinction that took me several years to make clear to myself), so I got to try this idea out a lot, and in some happy cases, it worked, and in some happier cases, I got paid the big bucks for making it work. And in 1986 I published Power Meetings, and in 1990 an expanded version called Connected Executives

I learned a lot. I learned that I could help people play with their ideas, together, just like I could help people play together. And that the idea of doing so was just as radical in the business world as it was in the worlds of education and recreation.

I facilitated meetings of all kinds, and, lo, I helped make many of them more productive, and caught the eye of people of significance, and learned all kinds of things about businesses and meetings, and though I wrote (and continue writing) some more articles about what I learned, I had a meeting with myself and I finally took into account the fact that the fun I was having wasn’t the kind of fun I wanted to be having or sharing or bringing into the world. Just like the kind of fun that comes from winning the Super Bowl isn’t the kind of fun I particularly want to be sharing or bringing into the world.

Later on, I developed this little piece of software called The Meeting Meter.

Before the meeting starts, type in your educated guess of your meeting costs. The message is plainly and painfully obvious, dollar after dollar after dollar.

Meeting Meter

as described in the LA Times

Meeting Cost:
Hourly Rate:
Duration: 00:00:00


Meeting Meter is a taxi meter for meetings – an amusing, but remarkably effective tool for increasing awareness of the “meetings problem.” The Wall Street Journal said it’s “just the product for all those companies who want to make their meetings more productive…”

“Long, unproductive meetings are the scourge of the business world. Now there’s a software package [Meeting Meter] to shut up the windbags by reminding everyone that time really is money.” –Business Week

“Face-to-face communication often gets in the way of what youïre trying to get done,’ says Bernard De Koven, a consultant best known for inventing the Meeting Meter, a device that calculates the cost of lengthy, overpopulated meetings. ”
– Newsweek

How much does a meeting cost?

According to a study by the University of Southern California in Los Angeles (Forbes, 10/25/93)

  • The average meeting takes place in the company conference room at 11 in the morning and lasts an hour and 30 minutes.
  • It is attended by nine people — two managers, four co-workers, two subordinates and one outsider — who have received two hour prior notification
  • It has no written agenda, and its purported purpose is complete only 50% of the time.
  • A quarter of meeting participants complain they waste between 11 and 25 percent of the time discussing irrelevant
  • A full third of them feel pressured to publicly espouse opinions with which they privately disagree
  • Another third feel they have minimal or no influence on the discussion
  • Although 36% of meetings result in a “complete” resolution of the topic at hand, participants considered only one percent of those conclusions to be particularly creative.
  • A whopping 63% of meeting attendees feel that underlying issues outside the scope of the official agenda are the real subjects under discussion.
  • Senior executives spend 53% of their time in meetings, at an average rate of $320 per person hour.

Now, the way I figure it, $320 is maybe 1/10th of what it’s costing the company for that executive’s time.

And then, to rub it in a little deeper, consider the cost to the entire organization. Check out the Cost Calculator from Effective Meetings. And download this issue of The Facilitator in which you’ll find Dr. Chris Avery’s article Fads and Gimmicks. What Will They Think of Next.

It was a gimmick – a tool for drawing attention to the kinds of investments people are making, just so they can talk to each other. I stopped producing after a while. It was getting too much press. People started taking it too seriously.

I’m more interested in the kind communication and the kind of fun that isn’t quantifiable, that can’t be calculated in terms of score or stock value or dollars or action items accomplished. I like the I/Thou kind of fun that happens in a business meeting when we get so together that we experience each other as unknowable, undefinable, unlimited beings. Or in some silly game of tag, where everyone and no one is IT.

1 Comment

  1. Jo Nelson on June 17, 2012 at 10:10 am


    I love the way you talk in the video about what happens in the facilitation.

    I recognize the underlying thinking. ICA methods are also based on Buber, along with a number of other German (and other) philosophers. “Collect, Connect, Correct” are very close to the way the ToP Consensus Workshop Method is designed.

    We’ve missed you at IAF conferences recently. It would be great if you could present on business meetings where we experience each other as unknowable, undefinable, unlimited beings.

    We’ve started having online sessions as part of the conferences, so that could be an option.

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