I’ve just been watching a 1979 documentary.

John Pilger’s “Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia”.

It’s about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

And how they wiped out 2 million people out of a population of 8 million.

Proportionally that’s worse than Hitler, or Stalin, or Mao.

They killed everyone who was educated: who could read or write, work machinery, all the teachers, the doctors, the musicians, the technicians, even shopkeepers.

Their policy was that the West, and its modernisation, was responsible for all the evils in society.

So they would take Cambodia back to pre-industrial times.

They would start again at year zero.

The documentary was filmed in the aftermath of that regime.

In a destroyed and starving country.

Halfway through, John Pilger meets a representative of The International Red Cross.

He approached Pilger and asked if he had contacts with any government that could organise a single C130 relief plane.

Just one single plane full of food and drugs.

Pilger said to the man “But you’re from The Red Cross.

Surely you’re in a much better position to organise that than me.”

The man said “Our representatives in Geneva are ‘currently considering formulating an overall framework’ for the relief of Cambodia.”

Pilger said “So what’s the problem?”

The man said “By the time everyone’s sat down and talked about it, thought about it, discussed it and compromised, negotiated and planned, and it’s finally worked out to everyone’s satisfaction that will take months to happen.

But the children are dying right now, that won’t wait.

I just want to save those children now.”

And I thought isn’t that exactly what we all do all the time.

We put off doing something by talking about it.

We agree to have a meeting.

We might even have a pre-meeting meeting.

To discuss exactly what we’re going to say at the meeting.

Because we can’t do anything without several meetings.

Not without everyone being consulted, having an opinion, having their say, and everyone being completely satisfied.

In fact the meetings are now more important than what actually happens as a result of them.

A script for a single thirty-second commercial takes up one side of an A4 sheet of paper.

But the reams of research documents, the piles of ‘recommendations for discussion’, the vast amounts of emails and memos, and minutes of meetings.

As everyone jokes “There goes the rain forest.”

And all in the belief that the more meetings we have, the more considered every single detail has been by every single person, the better the result.

But is it?

Or is it actually all just procrastination?

All a way of looking like we’re doing something while we’re actually avoiding doing it.

So no one has to take responsibility for a decision.

And the process is dragged out, giving it the appearance of being conscientious and thorough.

And words are more important than action.

  • Reddick

    Great post, Dave.
    Oreo’s Super Bowl triumph is a reminder to meeting-junkies to just get on with it.

  • Dave Trott

    Can you put up a link to it?

  • Dave Trott

    Quite right Reddick.
    They could have had a planning meeting, a traffic meeting, a client presentation meeting, a pre-production meeting, a research debrief meeting, another client presentation meeting, and a research tracking meeting.
    In about three or four weeks time they could have got around to actually running the ad.

  • Charles Frith

    Pilger and Assange are the only Australians with a backbone worth mentioning and I’ve got a lot of Melbourne mates who I’m fond of. Pilger’s Vietnam Documentary will never be equalled because the corporate media don’t show reality when it comes to war and if you’re paying attention to this documentary you can smell the whiff of fragging is in the air. It’s extraordinary.

  • Bob Maddams

    Dave, I found this on your Agency’s website – “We look at problems and ideas from all the angles at once. By getting all the disciplines round the table right from the start of a project, we can look at being predatory not just in what you say, but in what you do, how you communicate, and where.” Isn’t that perhaps what the Red Cross in Geneva were doing?

  • Dave Trott

    Great documentary Charles, thanks.

  • Dave Trott

    Some meetings are permissable,  unavoidable, even desirable.
    But IMHO meetings should always be kept to an absolute minimum.
    The difference is when we do it, we might waste time, but no one dies.

    • Bob Maddams

      Very true Dave.  Like many things in life things are not always as simplistic as they may appear and a balance needs to be struck to achieve the best, most efficient outcome.  IMHO it’s when considered responses and action are stragetically aligned that more lives can be saved.  I’ve just finished reading The Big Truck That Went By – How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, by Jonathan Katz, which shows the devastating consequences of getting this principle wrong. 

  • Dave Trott

    The question is where is the line between being thorough and procrastinating?
    And what is the cost of waiting?
    When does it cross over into the law of diminishing marginal returns?
    The nearest guide for me was what Colin Powell called his 40/70 rule:
    never make a decision without at least 40% of the information, don’t delay a decision once you’ve got at least 70% of the information.

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