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№ 20

Meetings that could have been an excel

Reading time 3 minutes read
How can we shift our collective focus from today to tomorrow, from what is to what could be? It's about designing routines for innovation and growth with care. It's about making the most of what's in the room in order to find focus for what matters tomorrow and avoiding brain drain by staring at too many excels.

When we redesigned our organisation, our intent was ongoing meaningful transformation by default. When in doubt that means: Choosing change over status quo, choosing evolution over security, choosing experimentation over standardization, choosing learning over knowing, choosing what could be over what is or what was. Many companies claim to act just like that but when you have a look at how they operate on a daily basis, routines and habits are manifesting and rewarding the opposite. I strongly believe in the real intent of an organisation cannot be read on some strategy paper but in the real life. Your degree of innovation, your maturity in transformation, digitization, sustainability - what have you, isn’t getting any better just by someone writing out the intent, by how good you are in translating that intent into daily routines, rituals and behavior. One of the fastest way to evaluate how a company really ticks, is to have a look at their reporting routines and meetings. They are a shortcut way not only to see what is really valued in an organisation, but also how evaluation of success is socially orchestrated. And in most organisations I have been, reporting meetings tend to look something like this.

This meeting could have been a shared excel.

Everybody knows those kind of meetings that should have been an email. They suck. What also sucks, are meetings that could have been a look at an excel. I lovingly call these meetings “assisted readings” because that’s exactly what they are. Everybody is looking at some kind of document (usually an excel sheet) and one or two persons walk through it, basically just reading out loud what's on the screen. Usually, the intent of these is to make sure that everybody has looked at the content, so we block some time to go through it together. The first issue I have with these kind of meetings is that they focus on sharing information that everybody already knows or could have known, if they cared. If they cared to know and if they cared to read the pre-read (assuming that you have a decent meeting hygiene in place, where there is an agenda or a pre-read send out prior to the meeting).

First, I don't need highly paid people to walk me through an excel and spell out what the numbers mean. If they want to make sure I had a look, they could just send me a ping and I could have scanned the document myself without wasting another 30 minutes of each other's time.
Second, in most cases, there is no information gained just by looking at these numbers. Let’s take the example of a team performance.
If the team did well and the numbers look great, they will boast in glory about their achievements, which is cool, because you can add a great feedback on your own but there is literally no other information delivered other than “doing great, business works as usual, please continue to do exactly what you're doing. If you care about feedback - I do, you could have just sent this via mail after looking at the excel. Done.

If they didn't do well, they will have to walk though the shit numbers that they probably have stared at for too long anyways. I don't believe that me repeating how bad the performance is, will have any other effect than bringing down everyone's morale. My basic assumption is that I work with smart people who care and feel responsible about what they do. They don't need me to feedback them that the results look shitty, they know that already and I assume that they have already tried to everything in their power to correct their course. When I initiate a meeting routine, I want to honor people’s time invest and intelligence by giving them something valuable to work with in return. Me stating the obvious is not that.

Needless to say - I despise “assisted readings”. IMHO, they are a complete offense to our sense of responsibility and autonomy. I realized that every time I'm invited to such a meeting, my mood goes down the drain and to be honest, I have also never seen anyone else leaving these kind of sessions, bouncing with energy. Next to being boring as fuck, these meetings also reinforce the wrong kind of focus - they set the wrong intent. They set people's attention and awareness to what is, not what could be. If we spend large chunks of our time, only talking about the present and what is, is it any surprise that there is so little innovation, change and future work happening? If we invest so much time in looking back, shouldn't we invest at least the same amount in looking forward? If we meet, shouldn't we use our brains to share the unknowns, instead the knowns?

So, when we decided to put innovation and transformation at the core of our organisational model, we scrapped every single meeting routine we had and poured our love and attention into designing fewer ones, but better ones. Also coming up with a new alternative to the reporting meetings.



Taking the venture model seriously, we needed a reporting routine that caters to the needs of constant innovation. So I wondered: how can I contribute to the overall success and value of the ventures based on my role as company strategist?

  • By giving clarity about my expectations towards each venture
  • By providing guidance based on my long experience in innovation
  • By helping ventures prioritize on the strategically most valuable
  • By conscious invests on experiments

And that’s exactly what the FOCUS FINDER is about. It’s about coming together to maximize the value of our hypotheses, meaning: we get our brains together to come up with the most promising, the most strategically sound, the most creative hypotheses we can as a shared investment for the next months. Not only is it about making the most of all experience, past learnings and knowledge in the room, but it’s also about aligning on a strategic choice. Because every hypothesis is a strategic invest that needs time, money, people and more. By discussing the hypotheses, we commit to the strategic bets of that business field - as an essential of our portfolio.

The meeting lasts 60 min top and we chose a rhythm of 8 weeks - enough time to generate learnings but frequent enough to keep us on our toes and make sure we don’t get complacent. So far, the results and the feedback has been positive. I feel like I’m on top of things that are happening and can make a valuable contribution. The discussions are interesting and meaningful. People are usually happy to get help in terms of prioritization and finding focus - it’s just a hard thing to do in these crazy, busy times with endless choices. So, we’re planing on sticking with this routine, but if we get the feeling that it isn’t helpful any longer or we need a different rhythm to make the most of it, we will just change it.

See our meeting structure below


  • What hypothesis set/experiment would you like to pursue and test over the next two months?
  • What would you like to have learned at the end?
  • What are your critical assumptions to work with?
  • What needs to be true or happen for your experiments to succeed?
  • What are the risks associated with the hypothesis and how will you handle them?
  • What if you succeeded?


  • What have you learned over the past two months?
  • What observations could you derive and how do you translate them into learnings for the future?
  • How was the organization able to support you? What lacked?
  • How did the returns and outcome relate to your invest (not only in terms of money, but also time, effort, emotions)?
  • What will you stop doing starting today?