Book review: Will there be donuts? By David Pearl

If you need help turning long-winded meetings into productive get-togethers, then this may well be the book for you.

by Allan Leighton
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Book: Will There Be Donuts? Start a business revolution one meeting at a time

Author: David Pearl

I will leave the explanation of the title to readers of the book, but the target of 'starting a business revolution one meeting at a time' is one hell of a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal). What Will There Be Donuts? is not is a catalyst for a revolution but it is a compelling reminder of the role that meetings play in our lives; how most of them are a waste of time and, if you go to a good one, how memorable and unique it is.

David Pearl reminds us that 'interest and fun' are the key ingredients of the good meeting but that 'millions of meeting sufferers' ask 'is this meeting ever going to end? or where did my day/week/year go?'. And is 'someone, anyone, ever going to make a decision? Did I drift off ... as they/we trudge through our ritual of meetings?'

The basics are as follows: have a beginning, a middle and an end. This gives structure and pulse points. Start and finish on time. Keep them 'pacey' and don't allow people to drag on. Inject humour, as that allows you to be 'harder' on the serious points. Don't allow slides. Handouts should be no more than four pages and issued before the meeting so they are for discussion not presentation, and always end the meeting by stating clearly what has been decided, what needs following up and by whom. And do your PMI - participants' feedback on the positives, minuses and interesting parts of the session. For me, this is as much Management Tomorrow as it is Management Today.

The author then takes us through the various types of meetings. The 'nearly meeting', where problems are half-solved, issues partially understood and the right things almost said, for example. He describes these meetings as a worldwide epidemic.

The 'really meeting' makes us smarter, and creates clarity, which Pearl describes as the holy grail of business. Really meetings are inclusive and allow real conversation to happen.

The chapter on the anatomy of meetings defines and describes the 'why of meetings': 'intent', 'content', 'connect' and 'context', and starts to build on the author's artistic background.

He talks about 'getting the casting right', and identifying the character parts of most of today's meetings, including the 'side talker', 'the snoozer' and the 'self promoter' - parts that most of us have either seen or played in our careers.

The piece on context hits the spot most for me. The leader's role in any business is to provide the context and framework for people to work with and in, and a fundamental platform for this has always been meetings of some form or another. These opportunities to remind everyone of the context (which in my mind is 'mission, purpose, values') should be part of every one of these 'set piece plays'.

Pearl then portrays the 'seven basic meeting types'. These are: information, discussion, decision, intention, solution, selling and meeting. My own sense is that the majority of meetings worth their salt contain most of these elements and are better when they do. This is as opposed to specific meetings for specific issues. The latter to me is the biggest contributor to 'meeting mania', but there are interesting and useful takes and tips on what to include and what to avoid.

The final chapter is called 'Meeting Mischief', which is about how to spice up meetings and get the interest and fun that deliver the productive, memorable meeting, as well as killing off 'punctual lateness', 'making dull meetings duller' and finally curing BMA (bad meeting addiction). Other concepts it explores are 'disrupt and stimulate', 'equilibrium is death', 'we are smarter than me' and 'fancy colour slides don't make your ideas less limp'.

I liked the subject matter of Will There Be Donuts?. I've always been an 'anti-meetingist'. At Asda, we had stand-up meetings to make them shorter, as people got tired standing up. I also allowed people to walk out of a meeting if they felt it was boring or irrelevant. I always start meetings on time (most meetings begin late) and have a rule that to be 'five minutes early is to be 10 minutes late'. I was also taught at an early age at Mars the basics of running good meetings - something that seems not to be 'sexy' today.

Generally, I think all business books are too long, and that the test is to get the key points on a maximum of 50 pages. This book suffers from this a bit, but it passes my 'skim test', which is if you want to skim a book in 40-plus minutes, can you get 10 great points or 10 great sayings from it that make you think? The answer to Will There Be Donuts? is yes.

Allan Leighton is the chairman of Pace, Pandora, Office and Music Magpie.co.uk and is a patron of Breast Cancer Care.

Will There Be Donuts? Start a business revolution one meeting at a time

David Pearl

HarperCollins £12.99

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