How to Reap More Upside Surprises from Meetings

Steve Jobs was famous for surprise announcements. He’d almost get all the way through an event, flash a little grin and say, “one more thing.” Then he’d deliver the big news. Over the years, Steve Job’s “one more thing” included iconic products, such as the iPod Shuffle, the MacBook Pro, the iPod Touch and the MacBook Air. It was always the last bit at the end that mattered.

Like most engineers, I go to meetings with some regularity. And in those meetings, just like the Apple events, it’s the “one more thing” that often holds the biggest surprise.

Here’s a few recent examples:

  • I have a weekly meeting of department heads at one client’s site. The agenda is a status update from each department and a discussion of ongoing projects. Last week, the head of marketing approached me after the meeting with a surprise: “We’re thinking about doing a rebranding.”  That’s a really useful thing to know, since we’ll have to rebrand the software too. If it goes forward, I’ll have to make sure I plan accordingly and not over-commit my team.
  • Another client has been focusing on unit testing, trying to help their developers improve their unit testing coverage and skills. After a standup a few weeks ago, one of the developers approached me and said, “hey, I know you’re busy but can you show me how to write a unit test?” This developer had been giving a standup of “working on my features and their unit tests” for about three days. He was struggling and didn’t want to mention it in front of everybody. I helped him for an hour and, magically, over the next few days, he started finishing tasks and their tests.

As you can see by these experiences, the meetings themselves weren’t eventful but the surprises at the last possible minute made all the difference.

Yes, meetings are a drag and, yes, meetings should stick to the agendas, but, no, you shouldn’t leave a meeting early. You might otherwise miss the surprise.

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