You’re a healthcare administrator so you have strong feelings about meetings and you continue attending them because attending meetings is what healthcare administrators do when they’re not responding to email.

But imagine if meetings became what you do when you needed to get something done. 

Here’s an idea from the design world that may do just that: Bring a prototype to every meeting.

A prototype is something that turns the idea in your head into something tangible. It’s an early demonstration of the idea in action. Rather than just conversation, it’s something to react to. It gives others the ability to experience, assess, and improve the idea. Most importantly, in the context of a meeting, a prototype ensures progress.

Think back to the trouble you (probably) had the last time you tried communicating your technology needs to the experts. Perhaps a sketch of a proposed software interface would have helped you communicate the ideas to an IT team more so than a labored conversation about requirements.

The same can be true for your non-technology projects, too.

A prototype is intended to create a scale model of something larger. It’s not intended to be a finished product. 

Mock up an idea using Powerpoint or one of many available online tools. Engage a colleague to act out a scripted experience. Use Post-It Notes and a Sharpie. Add cardboard and construction paper if it helps. Think low fidelity and low-cost. The Interaction Design Foundation has a nice and concise overview of prototyping methods here and know “There can never be an exhaustive list of prototyping methods since there is quite literally an endless number of ways you can build prototypes.”

Diego Rodriguez, the former Global Managing Director at IDEO and current Chief Product and Design Officer at Intuit, says to expect three things to happen when you begin bringing a prototype to every meeting: 

First, a lot of your meetings will evaporate. Those that shouldn’t happen in the first place, the ones where nothing gets done, won’t. If you can’t bring a prototype of your latest thinking, there’s a simple solution: don’t have the meeting.

Second, the meetings you do have will be awesome. With something concrete in the room, discussions will be more productive and actionable, and the level of shared understanding and alignment will go through the roof.

Finally, bring more prototypes to meetings, and you’ll boost levels of performance and engagement across your organization.




Of course, once you implement the prototype rule, the best meetings will be the meetings led by you. And in that regard, Allan Chochinov, the founding partner and editor-in-chief of design magazine Core77 and the chair and co-founder of the Products of Design graduate program at the School of Visual Arts, has an idea that takes the prototype rule even further: stop calling them meetings and start calling them reviews. 

He explains with an example:

Let’s take a look at this in action: Your calendar says that you have a “meeting at 3:30pm today.” Okay, now imagine that, instead, it read that you have a “review at 3:30pm today.” You’d look pretty silly going empty-handed to a review, right? It’s right there in the definition of the word “review” that the implicit (or actually, explicit) point of that gathering is to review stuff. Indeed, you would need to prepare something—anything—if you were going to a gathering of workmates that was labeled a review. (A “meeting” on the other hand doesn’t have any expectation built into it at all. And it already sounds dreadful).

He continues, “The effect of these ‘entry fees’ is to surface new knowledge, and to give the meeting participants something to react to; we all know that it’s far easier, and more fun, to react to something in front of our face than to try to dream up something out of thin air.”

So there you go: make your meetings productive by converting them to reviews, implying a cost of entry, and leveraging prototypes as a method of progress.

Thanksgiving! A holiday with no gift giving requirements and a distribution of household labor (the cooking, the baking, cleaning the dishes, turkey carving, beer fetching, cocktail mixing…) where the expectations are inherently agreed upon.

It also gives many of us a reason to think about other people—a collective, country-wide exercise that happens on the same day each year.

And if you’ll pardon a blunt segue from the dinner table to the boardroom table, thinking about other people is something much of the workforce could do more often—and specifically thinking about work situations from the perspective of another.

Thinking about work situations from the perspective of a boss, employee, colleague, etc. is a critical tool that separates strategically-minded achievers from the rest of the workforce.

Because most of us rarely see the world from any other angle than our own. 

I was reminded of the idea this week while listening to Brian Koppelman interview Jenna Fischer—you might know her better as Pam from The Office—on his podcast The Moment. Fischer tells the story of sitting through a network test audition for a pilot episode of a new TV show in a room full of actors, writers, producers, and network executives.

An actor thinks everybody is just thinking about their performance and how good they are but in reality everyone has something at stake because when the actor goes in the room and starts performing the material if the actor isn’t “doing well” … I talk to writers and directors who are like “oh my god it’s me, I wrote wrong” or “I’ve directed that person wrong” … everybody is feeling the nerves in the room and that’s why those rooms are so tense I think because everybody thinks it’s about them but it’s about all of our parts.

The actor thinks it’s about them. The writer thinks it’s about them. The producer thinks it’s about them. The network executives definitely think it’s about them.

But of course it’s about everybody. The actor needs the writer and the producer. The writer needs the actor and the producer. The producer needs the actor and the writer. And everyone needs the network executives. The end product suffers if anyone loses sight of the intentions and motives of any other.

In the workplace we call the intentions and motives of other people an agenda. It’s usually used with a negative connotation but understanding another person’s agenda is key to achievement in the workplace. Knowing why other people are making the decisions they’re making will help you make your own. 

Lacking agenda awareness as you sit around a boardroom table is akin to arriving at the Thanksgiving dinner table with the intention of having a sensible political discussion. It could be bad for your relationships.