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Pile-On Meetings: How to Fight ‘Stovepipes’

By Shlomo Maital


Kathleen Finch

Kathleen Finch is the chief programming officer for  several cable TV channels: HGTV (Home & Garden Channel), Food Network and Travel Channel.   Her job requires a great deal of creativity, in keeping programming fresh, relevant and lively for viewers.

   Interviewed in today’s International New York Times, she reveals some of her methods for maintaining creativity. One of them is called “pile-on meetings”.   I believe this is a remedy for stovepipe management – that is, narrowly defined management responsibilities, vertical ones, with very little interaction or overlap for creative ideas. Stovepipes are one of the reasons that big organizations with detailed vertical organizational charts   struggle to innovate.

   “I have a meeting every few months that I call a pile-on meeting,” she told the NYT. “I bring about 25 people into a room and go over all the different projects that are coming up in the next 6 months and the goal is that everybody piles on with their ideas to make those projects as successful as they can be. The rule walking into the meeting is that you must forget your job title. I don’t want the marketing person just talking about marketing. I want everyone talking about what they would do to make this better. It is amazing what comes out of those meetings!”

   Another key insight? “I love when things don’t go right, because it’s a good time to talk about taking smart risks. If everything worked all the time, that would mean we’re not trying anything crazy, and it’s the crazy ideas that end up being the really successful ideas.”

     Again, another reason big organizations fail to innovate. Who would attempt anything, in the corporate world, that could well fail?

Young Man, Young Woman:  Go West! Go East!  Just…Go!

By Shlomo  Maital    

           World Traveller

Each year, New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof chooses an intern, to travel with him and report on ‘neglected issues’.  This year’s winner?  20-year-old Nicole Sganga.   In his column “Go west young people! And east!”,  Kristof makes an interesting point.

   First, a little joke.   If ‘trilingual’ means knowing 3 languages, bilingual means knowing 2 – what is a person called who knows no foreign languages?   Answer: an American.  Most Americans do not have a passport, do not know a foreign language, and do not travel abroad.  The result is an insular nation ignorant of geography and other cultures.

   Kristof notes that of all the 50 American states, the most cosmopolitan, and the best state in which to do business (according to Forbes magazine) is…not New York!  It is..Utah, the state with a large population of Mormons (Church of the Latter Day Saints), a religion not known for liberality.   Why?  Because young Mormons are required to do two years of missionary work in a foreign land, and they return speaking Thai, Mandarin, Korean and a blizzard of languages – 130 languages are spoken in commerce in Utah, as a result!

    Kristof notes that fewer than 10 per cent of US college students study overseas during their undergraduate years. 

    In my country, Israel, young people complete their compulsory army service, then pack a backpack and trek through India, South America, Thailand, anywhere, partly to cleanse themselves of the early-rising army discipline.  One result is to make Israel a very cosmopolitan nation, which I think helps our startups a lot. 

    Kristof suggests: How about if American colleges gave students a semester credit for a gap year spent in a non-English-speaking country?    

     America has paid heavily for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bungled in part because America had little understanding of the complex cultures of those nations, cultures you can understand only by living there  and learning the language.  So simply as a matter of survival, if America wants to understand this complex often hostile world, more young Americans need to experience other nations.  It’s a matter of national security.    

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital