I glanced at the woman seated next to me. She was having a bad hair decade. “Is this going to be a difficult meeting?” I asked her.
She looked thoughtful for a moment, which was like watching a beauty contestant tell you she dreams of world peace; even when it’s sincere, it’s the depth of thought that’s scary. “I can’t really say, exactly,” she answered. I was feeling pithy and asked, “Hey, Moonbeam. How about inexactly?”
“You’ll earn your paycheck,” she told me. She looked at me quizzically, as though she thought my mental bolts could use a good tightening, as though I, a consultant, would have a proprietary chromosomal insight as to what was about to happen.
It was going to be the type of meeting that anyone not wearing a Brooks Brothers suit would stick out like a purple banana on a stick. Fortunately, this was not going to be my first rodeo. I’d met people like her before, people who had the biological need to start every day by dancing on somebody’s forehead.
We each brought something different to the meeting— different specialties, different mind-sets, different wardrobes—and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. In an organization, the term for this is synergy, and in an individual, it’s called multiple personality disorder.
“Is that your presentation?” I asked, referring to a stack of thickly stapled documents. “How much time did they give you to present?”
“You must have a hundred slides in that deck. I am willing to bet you a dollar that you don’t get past page ten.”
“I could literally give this presentation in my sleep,” she replied.
“How about unliterally?” I asked, but my attempt at sarcasm was lost on her. She looked at me with a look that could have made rocks cry and then said that if I were any dumber I would have to be watered twice a week.
She and I were not bonding. There would be no exchanging of home addresses, and no planning of a future vacation together. Were I given a vote, she would have a special place in the guillotine line when the revolution went down.
I have been to many meetings across the U.S. like the one that was about to start. They were pretty much all the same, the only real difference being the slides that were presented. The meetings were about patient access or engagement or consumerism.
A half-dozen people would be there. They would chitchat about the humidity and mention that it might rain later today. Blank, yellow legal pads would rest in front of each participant. Someone would introduce the topic and everyone would assume the role of attentive participants.
The problem seems to be that everyone thinks that they already know everything there is to know about the topic. They have outsmarted themselves. Nobody is prepared to say that the emperor has no clothes for the simple reason that they know that the organization’s leadership does not have anyone interested in changing the status quo.
There is no definition of patient experience. No access strategy. No written vision of how things should be.
So when the meeting ends I look around the table. The yellow legal pads are as blank as they were when the meeting started. That is because nobody was told what they need to do tomorrow to move the issue forward. Other meetings will yield the same result.
My dad asked recently, “What exactly do you contribute as a consultant?”
I replied, “I am the guy who knows what to do tomorrow, and who rides the elephant into the room.”
I did notice, however, in today’s meeting that one of the attendees seemed to be a little less bored with the proceedings. I asked him in the elevator what had captured his attention. He told me that the Magmar Pokémon character was sitting behind the bagels on the room’s credenza.
Knowing that I still had two more meetings to attend that day I decided to download the Pokémon app just to make sure that the day wouldn’t be a total loss.