Meeting-less leadership


Creative leaders can struggle with the limiting effects of seniority. They are expected at more meetings. Less of their time is their own. Everything is scheduled and less  spontaneous – it seems frivolous to have diary time that is not spoken for by one plan or priority.

I was inspired to read about IDEO’s chief creative officer, Paul Bennett’s radical response to this challenge in a New York Times article. He has a Sunday night ritual of deleting meetings from his diary – as many as he can, and then sets up a desk in the middle of the office where he can be found, interrupted and bumped into serendipitously:

I bucked our internal trend of “hot desking,” where people don’t have a permanent desk. Most of our employees sign up for a desk when they come in for the day — that helps keep everyone flexible and fluid. But I wanted to be an anchor in all that fluidity. So I sat myself permanently and resolutely with our I.T. team at its help desk, which is the most visible and central spot in our San Francisco office.

I think of the help desk as an overlap between a coffee bar and a hacked-together technological lifeguard station. The people there are full of energy and fun. Sitting high up on a stool with them has encouraged people to approach me spontaneously. This lets conversations and interactions happen naturally over the course of the workday. I try to spend about half my day at the help desk and the other half doing what I call “doctor’s rounds,” when I walk through the office and talk to people if they request it or if I feel that they are receptive to it.

I now allow myself to be pulled, to drift in and out, and to be available for five-minute or two-hour interactions depending on what’s needed. Because of that, I feel as if I am part of a living, breathing organism, and responding to its needs rather than simply running from place to place with a calendar in my hand.

Of all of this – and a strange thins about a lamp made of a desiccated cod – it’s the first bit I like most. Making saying “no” part of the planning routine, creating space for unplanned things to happen. I think I will try that out…


Do Tanks

Er, well, metaphorically we should take the stairs instead of just thinking about it or taking the less challenging escalator. Um...

Sometimes I think I would like to work for a think tank. Sounds like my kind of thing, all that thinking. 

Imagine. Get into work, sit down and have a ruddy good think. Lovely. 

Something niggles me, though. The last couple of years have taught me the about the power of doing as much as thinking, as especially thinking while doing. 

So the other night, I decided that what would be better than working in a think tank would be being in a Do-Tank. Kind of like an innovation team without a company. Maybe it starts companies as it moves along, taking on edge challenges, riding new waves. But always creating things (technologies, services, models, products, ideas, whatever)…

M’learned colleague Jim says that of course companies like IDEO are Do Tanks. I guess they are, really: applying innovation and creative thinking to challenges that companies face and to those problems that just take their fancy. 

Of course, following the first law of ideas and the web (“Whatever you think of, someone’s probably doing something like it already”)…

There’s the cool-looking DoTank Studios, a digital design firm in London: 

There’s a public sector performance organisation in the Netherlands called Do Tank (although I seem to recall that “Do!” in Dutch is a word much like “‘Bye!” in English). 

And there’s a fair amount of “Think-Do Tank” discussions out there. And naturally, the brilliant Word Spy has the skinny on the phrase “Do Tank”: 

do tank n. A research institute that focuses on actions rather than ideas. Also: do-tank. 


Example Citation:
Like Elihu Root (1912), the first president of the Carnegie Endowment for Intertational Peace, [Jimmy] Carter heads a “non-governmental organization.” (But while Carnegie is a think tank, the Carter Center is more of ado tank.)
—Hedrik Hertzberg, “He’s no. 19,” The New Yorker, October 28, 2002



Earliest Citation:
Midwest Research now ranks as one of the top not-for-profit private research facilities in the country. There are larger research institutes, but few with the growth record of MRI. Revenue for this year is expected to exceed $46 million, twice what it was just three years ago.

A science journal recently labeled MRI “a small think tank in the Midwest.” Not so, says Harold M. Hubbard, MRI vice president for research. “We’re a ‘do-tank,’ not a ‘think tank.”‘
—Scott Kraft, “Washington Dateline,” The Associated Press, November 18, 1979

: : Stat fans may get a frisson of big-round-number-joy to know that this is post number 1,000 on Open… hurrah!