Bad meetings aren’t a 21st Century problem.

Meetings are frustrating, indecisive and long because people don’t prepare answers to four questions. If you’re a boss like Mr. Leon Shimkin, refuse to start meetings without four answers.

The quotations here are from Dale Carnegie’s 1944 classic, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” bless his heart.

In Chapter 5, “How to Eliminate Fifty Per Cent of Your Business Worries,” Dale starts with his usual story grabber:

“This story is about…Leon Shimkin, a former partner and general manager of one of the foremost publishing houses in these United States: Simon and Schuster, Rockefeller Center, New York.” Mr. Shimkin says, ‘If anyone had told me that I could eliminate three fourths of all the time I spent in those worried conferences, and three fourths of my nervous strain—I would have thought he was a wild-eyed, slap-happy, armchair optimist.’

I love the 1940’s prose, but you’re here for a solution that works: Ask your staff to answer these four questions before—not during—every meeting:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What is the cause of the problem?
  3. What are all the possible solutions to the problem?
  4. What solution do you suggest?

Does this work? Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Mr. Shimkin:

“My associates rarely come to me with their problems. Why? Because they have discovered that in order to answer those four questions they have to get all the facts and think their problems through. And after they have done that they find, in three fourths of the case, they don’t have to consult me at all, because the proper solution has popped out like a piece of bread popping out from an electric toaster.”

I would add a fifth question, “What could go wrong?” Risk is inevitable, even desirable, but you do need to get ahead of them.

Now it’s up to you. Don’t let your associates make you solve all their problems.

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