To really succeed in a business or
organization, it is sometimes helpful to know what your job is, and
whether it involves any duties. Ask among your coworkers.
“Hi,” you should say. “I’m a new employee. What is
the name of my job?” If they answer “long-range
planner” or “lieutenant governor,” you are pretty
much free to lounge around and do crossword puzzles until
retirement. Most jobs, however, will require some work.
There are two major kinds of work in modern organizations:
1. Taking phone messages for people who are in
2. Going to meetings.
Your ultimate career strategy will be to get a job involving
primarily No. 2, going to meetings, as soon as possible, because
that’s where the real prestige is. It is all very well and good to
be able to take phone messages, but you are never going to get a
position of power, a position where you can cost thousands of people
their jobs with a single bonehead decision, unless you learn how to
The first meeting ever was held back in the Mezzanine Era. In those
days, Man’s job was to slay his prey and bring it home for Woman,
who had to figure out how to cook it. The problem was, Man was slow
and basically naked, whereas the prey had warm fur and could run
like an antelope. (In fact it was an antelope, only nobody knew
At last someone said, “Maybe if we just sat down and did some
brainstorming, we could come up with a better way to hunt our
prey!” It went extremely well, plus it was much warmer sitting
in a circle, so they agreed to meet again the next day, and the
But the women pointed out that, prey-wise, the men had not produced
anything, and the human race was pretty much starving. The men
agreed that was serious and said they would put it right near the
top of their “agenda”. At this point, the women, who were
primitive but not stupid, started eating plants, and thus modern
agriculture was born. It never would have happened without meetings.
The modern business meeting, however, might better be compared with
a funeral, in the sense that you have a gathering of people who are
wearing uncomfortable clothing and would rather be somewhere else.
The major difference is that most funerals have a definite purpose.
Also, nothing is really ever buried in a meeting.
An idea may look dead, but it will always reappear at another
meeting later on. If you have ever seen the movie, “Night of
the Living Dead,” you have a rough idea of how modern meetings
operate, with projects and proposals that everyone thought were
killed rising up constantly from their graves to stagger back into
meetings and eat the brains of the living.
There are two major kinds of meetings:
1. Meetings that are held for basically the same reason that Arbor
Day is observed – namely, tradition. For example, a lot of
managerial people like to meet on Monday, because it’s Monday.
You’ll get used to it. You’d better, because this kind account for
83% of all meetings (based on a study in which I wrote down numbers
until one of them looked about right). This type of meeting operates
the way “Show and Tell” does in nursery school, with
everyone getting to say something, the difference being that in
nursery school, the kids actually have something to say.
When it’s your turn, you should say that you’re still working on
whatever it is you’re supposed to be working on. This may seem
pretty dumb, since obviously you’d be working on whatever you’re
supposed to be working on, and even if you weren’t, you’d claim you
were, but that’s the traditional thing for everyone to say. It would
be a lot faster if the person running the meeting would just say,
“Everyone who is still working on what he or she is supposed to
be working on, raise your hand.” You’d be out of there in five
minutes, even allowing for jokes. But this is not how we do it in
America. My guess is, it’s how they do it in Japan.
2. Meetings where there is some alleged purpose. These are trickier,
because what you do depends on what the purpose is. Sometimes the
purpose is harmless, like someone wants to show slides of pie charts
and give everyone a big, fat report. All you have to do in this kind
of meeting is sit there and have elaborate fantasies, then take the
report back to your office and throw it away, unless, of course,
you’re a vice president, in which case you write the name of a
subordinate in the upper right hand corner, followed be a question
mark, like this: “Norm?” Then you send it to Norm and
forget all about it (although it will plague Norm for the rest of
But sometimes you go to meetings where the purpose is to get your
“input” on something. This is very serious because what it
means is, they want to make sure that in case whatever it is turns
out to be stupid or fatal, you’ll get some of the blame, so you have
to escape from the meeting before they get around to asking you
anything. One way is to set fire to your tie.
Another is to have an accomplice interrupt the meeting and announce
that you have a phone call from someone very important, such as the
president of the company or the Pope. It should be one or the other.
It would a sound fishy if the accomplice said, “You have a call
from the president of the company, or the Pope.”
You should know how to take notes at a meeting. Use a yellow legal
pad. At the top, write the date and underline it twice. Now wait
until an important person, such as your boss, starts talking; when
he does, look at him with an expression of enraptured interest, as
though he is revealing the secrets of life itself. Then write
interlocking rectangles like this: (picture of doodled rectangles).
If it is an especially lengthy meeting, you can try something like
this (Picture of more elaborate doodles and a caricature of the
If somebody falls asleep in a meeting, have everyone else leave the
room. Then collect a group of total strangers, right of the street,
and have them sit around the sleeping person until he wakes up. Then
have one of them say to him, “Bob, your plan is very, very
risky. However, you’ve given us no choice but to try it. I only
hope, for your sake, that you know what you’re getting yourself
into.” Then they should file quietly out of the room.