I logged onto Zoom and patiently waited for the meeting to begin. Ring lights turned bright, glasses on, hair checked, I felt excitement underneath my calm facade. And then, the call started. What came next was an in-depth discussion of business tactics, book recommendations, and life lessons. Oh and we even recorded a podcast episode during it as well. This was my kind of meeting.
We’ve been conditioned to accept mediocrity. To agree to meetings with no real purpose, with no real reason for it besides the fact that they’re “in town and wanted to grab lunch.” Lunch with a friend is great. Lunch as a backdrop for the type of meeting I described above is arguably better. But lunch with a random business person whose boss is forcing them to be there is an entirely different thing altogether.
I’ve been the lowly intern sitting in the back of the conference room. I’ve been the executive counting down the minutes until we could conclude the coffee get-together forced on us by our employers. And more than likely you have as well. Meetings are a waste. However, there’s one meeting that I always say yes to. One that I happily initiate and gladly accept.
The Meeting of Ideas
Yes, the meeting of ideas. I love a good exchange of ideas. I love talking to people who are more informed than me, are smarter than me, wiser than me, better than me. It’s wonderful! It’s like reading a life-changing book in the span of an hour. Your whole brain lights up. You become filled with inspiration and ideas. And when it ends, it’s like the inevitable finishing of a dessert. You want more but know that you need to be done for now. That is, until next time.
It’s the opposite of the boring, pointless drivel you and I have been forced into in the past. Where those meetings were dull, these are exciting. Where those were ambiguous, these are actionable. And where those were draining, these are motivating.
It was this kind of meeting, the meeting I described at the top of this article, the good kind, that I recently had with Francesca Phillips of The Good Space (shoutout Francesca!). The meeting was an open exchange of ideas, a trading of knowledge and experiences. These are the kind of meetings I put on my calendar. These are the kind of meetings I urge you to put on yours as well. The question is, how do you go about doing that?
Well, there are two sides to it. There’s the initiator and the recipient. The person proposing the meeting and the person accepting it.
The Initiator and the Recipient
When you’re the initiator, only reach out to people that you find interesting. For example, one thing that I love about Tim Ferriss’s podcast is that he interviews people he genuinely wants to learn from. He asks questions that he actually wants answered. He’s curious for his own sake and in that, he helps uncover ideas that we the listener can then utilize. When scheduling meetings, do the same thing. Reach out to people that interest you, that you can learn from.
An easy way to do this is by perusing your favorite social platforms.
Find someone with a similar or slightly greater follower count who does what you’re doing. You can try reaching out to someone with a much higher following, but you run the risk of the relationship being one-sided. Remember an exchange of ideas requires an exchange. If all you do is take, there’s not much of a benefit for them. Often, someone in a similar position as you (or slightly further along) is a perfect fit.
On the recipient side, your job is easy. Say either yes or no. Apply Derek Sivers’s now-famous rule: “If you’re not saying ‘HELL YEAH!’ about something, say ‘no’.” However, sometimes it’s easier to do this in theory than in reality. Declining someone’s invitation can be tricky and thus requires practice. In my case, I try to be concise, polite, and appreciative.
Something like, “Hey – I’m not interested, but thanks for reaching out!”
That’s in the case of a request that comes in cold. If it’s from someone I know a little better, I provide more detail. Either way, I strive to be honest. I don’t want to make excuses or side-step anything. Direct, honest, but polite has worked for me in the past. Furthermore, if you don’t have a lot of inquiries coming in right now, you may be tempted to take that meeting even though you know it’s a waste. Ultimately, it’s an opportunity cost.
If you have nothing better to do, take them up on it. But, do you really have no better use for your time? Think about it before agreeing.
Your Next Meeting of Ideas
Imagine you’ve been running your freelance business for two years. It’s growing slow and steady. One day, you’re on Twitter and come across someone’s profile. Looks like they’re a freelancer as well. Based on what they write about, they’re in a similar space as you. Doing freelance graphic design along with other projects on the side. You do some research and find their email. Reaching out, you start a conversation.
You exchange some ideas, maybe you talk about each others’ goals. Ultimately, one of you suggests jumping on a call to chat more. You can’t wait! The day arrives and the meeting begins. You blink and an hour has passed. Before you now is a Google Doc filled with notes and ideas from the conversation. They likely have one on their side as well. The call ends. You have a smile on your face. That was a great meeting. You both benefited from it and are both the better for it.
When it comes to a meeting of ideas, consider the quote by John F. Kennedy, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
When you share your ideas, it allows them, the recipient, to grow and improve. When they share theirs, it allows you to do the same. Moving forward, disregard meetings that vow to waste your time. Say no more to draining chats. Instead, say yes to meetings that excite you. Actively seek them out and openly agree to them when they arise. In a time where mediocre meetings abound, be diligent in handling them. Politely decline those that aren’t a fit. Try to get out of ones that don’t provide value.
Be intentional with how you spend your time each day. Then, when one comes along that lights you up, go for it.