Intro: Duration: (02:09)
Opening music jingle & sound effects
Hey everyone. I'm Jeff Hunt, and this is the Human Capital podcast produced by GoalSpan. My quest on this podcast is to uncover the deeply human aspect of work. Today we're going to talk about meetings in most organizations, people spend a significant amount of time in meetings. And I would like to ask you, listeners, what is the first word or phrase that comes to mind when I mentioned the word meeting?
It's probably something like dread or maybe some of you are thinking of boredom or how about waste of time? And really at their worst meetings can be a cesspool of microaggressions. Why do people often feel like meetings suck? They don't have to. And so today we're going to unpack this.
My guest on the show today is Josh Little, who is passionate about doing meetings better. Josh is a serial entrepreneur, and he has founded four tech companies, Maestro, Bloomfire, Quizzer, and his current venture volley. These apps have collectively been used by hundreds of millions of people. And as companies have been featured in tech crunch, Mashable, entrepreneur, Inc, and Forbes magazine, Josh has had two successful exits and anticipates a third success with Volley.
His mission at volley is to provide the world with a more meaningful way to communicate with his asynchronous video messaging app. Welcome, Josh.
Well, it's my pleasure, Jeff. That's a wonderful intro. Thanks for having me.
You bet. It's awesome to have you on the show. I've been wanting to talk about this topic for a long time, because I've heard so many people complain about it, and yet nobody seems to be doing anything about it, which is frustrating.
So, I am looking forward to having you help me unpack why meetings are so painful and what we can do about it.
Well, that's a great definition of a perfect problem to solve is a problem that's so big and so painful, that everyone walks right by it because they don't know what to do about it. So, let's go there!
Topic 1. Who or what inspired you to follow your career path? (02:10)
Well before we do, I want to get a little bit personal, take me back to the beginning of your career, and share with our listeners who, or what inspired you or helped you sort of forge the path that led you to where you are today?
Well, my career is kind of a winding road from teaching to corporate sales and marketing and to entrepreneurship. But where I've been the last 15 years is a tech founder. I would have to say who would be my mom. I didn't realize she was an entrepreneur.
Neither did she. She cleaned houses and painted houses. And she just did odd jobs, but she made her own money. She had her own business and we never appreciated that. She never appreciated that, but she really was a dreamer. And I got that from her and probably the “what” catalyst would be the book.
A lot of people point to this book, rich dad, poor dad. For someone who grew up in rural Michigan. Just the idea of owning your own business or that you could choose these things. If you wanted to, you could choose to be wealthy if you wanted to, and you can take steps towards those goals. Like those were just radical ideas for me.
And just started me on a quest and it took me about five years, but five years later, I started my first company.
So many people have been inspired by that book. Haven't they?
Yeah, it's magic.
It's been mentioned on this show actually, a number of times believe it or not.
Oh, good. Old Robert. I hope to meet that guy someday. Yeah,
Topic 2. What's the big problem with meetings? (03:47)
No doubt. Let's talk about meetings for a minute. Start us out by setting the table with some of the research. What does the research say about the cost of unproductive and inefficient meetings? Cause I know you've done some work in this area.
It's a big problem and the numbers get so big. It's not even believable, like a $399 billion dollar problem, for American companies alone, 51% of the average worker's workday is spent in meetings. So, half of your time, over half of your time. So it's massive and we've all been in wonderful magical productive meetings.
And we've also been in a nightmare, time-suck, hell hole sort of meetings. So we're here to talk about the ladder, right?
Absolutely. Speaking of what would you say the top three, four, or five biggest problems that people experience with meetings at work today?
Well, I think we all sense these things, but we just don't know what to do about them.
And they're typical of all, it's just human behavior in group settings. But everything from having to stop what you're doing to do something else and all of the switching costs of getting out of the flow and having to get somewhere and having to get your mind in a different place.
And every meeting requires that. And then once you get there today, it's dealing with technical difficulties, which we did at the beginning of this time. Like what's going on with, oh, let me choose my speaker. Oh, I think it's something hijack. That's the first five minutes of every meeting today. Right?
Then the obligatory small talk. We even did it about music at the beginning of this call. But it's expected the meandering of the conversation, which I'm sure I'll meander during this conversation. And then the magical sponge that meetings are, whatever time box you give them, they will soak up every minute of it.
Is it amazing how a 30-minute meeting magically takes 30 minutes? All of those things that you had to discuss somehow just happened in 30 minutes or a 60-minute meeting, magically takes 60 minutes. And it's not that we're that good at guessing the time it takes to do things, it's more likely that we just fill that time with whatever we need.
And that's a lot of meanders that conversation, people that talk too much. And I haven't even mentioned that people that talk too many people that don't talk up enough and all of the problems in dynamics of human behavior there. So there's a lot of them, we just don't know what to do about it.
So we just show up at the next meeting and schedule the one after that.
Yeah. And it sounds like what you're saying is, a couple of things. One is work typically expands to fit. And so it's the same with meetings. Why am I blocking 30 minutes, 60 minutes, two hours? What's who's making that decision, to begin with?
And then it also sounds like what you're saying is we're dealing with problems of either under-representation or over-representation right? So, somebody who may have fantastic. Who's an innovator could also be an introvert. And so they may not shine as much in a meeting as somebody else. Who's an extrovert who actually might not have as much valuable feedback to share, isn't that right?
Absolutely. And that's it. That's someone exactly like me. I test higher on an introvert scale usually than most of my engineers. And you wouldn't get that from talking to me necessarily because I present as an extrovert, but in a meeting or in a classroom. I am silent. I can't think of the idea on the spot.
The risk of speaking up feels too high. I'm afraid I'm going to trip over my words. And therefore, I'm quiet and it's like three seconds after I walk out of the room. It's like, I got it. Or I'll go, you know, go to the bathroom or whatever. That's when creativity happens for me, it doesn't happen when I'm eyeball to eyeball in the same room with someone.
And I know other people are the opposite. Like they have to be eyeball to eyeball to get that energy. I'm just facilitating for them because that's as good as I'm going to be at that moment.
Topic 3. Meetings in the remote-work era (08:30)
You're really talking about all this value that occurs outside the meeting.
And the ultimate goal is to take and capture that innovation or those thoughts, at least for certain types of meetings, and be able to bring them back into the meeting. I think your company does that pretty well. Later in our conversation. I want you to circle back and tell me about how you do that with asynchronous video communication and the other aspects of your tool.
But before we do that, I want to talk a little bit more about some of the platforms that are being used today. And I also want to talk about the pandemic and how this has really changed the way. That work has been done for most organizations. And so let's start with that. What do you see as some of the biggest problems that have resulted in being forced into remote work and maybe not being ready for it and how people are creating meetings and hosting meetings by default when they're maybe not necessary?
Yeah, well, I'll just cite Buffers, state of remote work-study, which is probably the most widely quoted remote work-study that the top two problems with remote work are lack of collaboration or communication and loneliness. And they're actually tied for number one. And then there's a big margin between number one and two and three.
So those seem to be the problems, just disconnection. And for that reason, There have been all kinds of stats. They don't quite agree. SoI hate sharing those, but you'll hear stats about meetings have increased, but times have decreased or meetings have decreased, but times have increased.
So they don't all agree. So, but we do feel that meetings feel like they've increased generally. That's, that's my sense, anecdotally. And I think most people would agree with that and it's because. There are only really two ways to communicate with your team. You can either type or you can talk. And today we have new digital versions of these things, the same way as we've had for the last century.
But the new digital version is called slack or zoom. And if you think about it, those are really the only ways you can either slack, or chat, or email, or text your coworkers, which is asynchronous, or you can talk, but that means getting in a room or getting on zoom and they both have their own problems.
When I choose to type a message to you. I'm choosing to do something I'm seven times slower at than talking. And it also only it's missing 93% of the communication picture because you don't get my tone of voice. You don't get my body language. It's why we're doing this interview over zoom and not emailing it back and forth.
It would lose its magic while I hope we'll see. But you get the idea. And when, when I choose to talk well that that's choosing to do something that's interrupted and that brings in all of those bad behaviors and problems that I mentioned before. So it's really a pick your poison sort of communication, quandary, therefore.
If the majority of our communication is flowing through a thin, medium, like slack or chat, we're missing out on a lot of those touchpoints that we used to have when we were in office, therefore the lack of communication, and the loneliness that ensues. And then it seems with increased face-to-face time on zoom, we would have.
Like more connection. Wouldn't we in a remote world that it's actually not true. There's something about this zoom barely synchronous dynamic that just creates enough friction. That it doesn't feel natural. It doesn't really feel like we're in the same room, even though we kind of are.
Yeah. It's almost like it's strange because it's a contrary indicator. You said that we're spending more time in meetings statistically, but yet loneliness has increased. And so it just goes to say that there are dynamics at play that are leading to that.
Or it was all of those little ad hoc interactions that we had around the water cooler in the hallway, stopping by, at lunch, the conversation we had in the parking lot after work, that seemed like nothing in isolation, but when you take them away, they summed up.
To equal trust, they summed up an equal relationship. And it wasn't that sitting in a meeting together that actually created the trust and created the relationship. It was actually everything around that. That really was the foundation. And I think that's also part partly what we're seeing
Is that before, because so many of those trust-building dynamics only can happen when, or can happen more effectively when we're one-to-one versus when we’re in teams of larger groups.
Well, I think so. Yeah. Trust is typically built-in one-to-one relationships, some sort of personal connection, the jokes that we share, not necessarily the work that we do. You see that at conferences, you know, you go to the conference for the keynote speaker, the big group.
That's why you buy the ticket. That's why you get on the plane. But it's really, the magic happens in the hallway. The magic happens in the personal interactions that happen with the person that you met in this session. Then you go to lunch together. That's when relationships are built. And so when you look back at a conference, for example, I'm just using, conferences and that as your metaphor for human connection.
When you look back at the conference, you don't really remember the keynote. You remember the car ride to lunch with this person that you met at this random breakout session or whatever. And, and that's why people stay at work is because we have these relationships with these people that we love and trust.
Topic 4. Volley App (14:42)
It makes sense. You've got this app Volley. And I think obviously you've thought through a lot of these problems, but maybe you can talk a little bit about what some of the solutions are, whether somebody is using volley or not.
Yeah. So the solution and I'll speak big because there are two different solutions.
One for people who are in offices, one for people who are remote. And so I'm really focused on the remote work and creating that connection that once existed when we were once in proximity to one another, which is kind of what we're trying to solve with Volley. So, the solution is in my mind, a new way to communicate that has all the benefits and flexibility of typing slack chat, email with the richness of talking.
And that's why volley is a video messaging app. So, the whole idea of volley is we take turns just like any conversation like you and I have taken seven or eight turns now, I don't know, um, in this conversation, except we record our term with video. And by doing that we separate time and space from the conversation equation.
You can still have a conversation we could have literally had this interview on Volley, but maybe I'm not listening to you when you talk and you're not listening to me when I talk but by not doing that. We get all these benefits. I can listen to you on two X. I can pause and rewind and I can, what did he say?
Oh really? Oh. And then I can stop and I can think for second 10 seconds, a hunt hundred minutes, whatever I need to come up with a fundamentally better response in educational research shows that anytime we can wait even three seconds, the student will generate a better response. So giving us, especially as introverts.
Time to think creates an even better conversation that is faster, that can be batched into corners of her day. Kind of like email and chat. Now you could, you could say, oh, well, that's great. We don't have to have any more meetings. Well, that's not necessarily the case. There's still a lot of good reasons to get on zoom or get in a room.
Usually, those are emotionally charged conversations or things. A tight feedback loop, or we really need to iterate and riff on something and we need to make a decision soon.
Well. And I've also noticed that when you're trying to deal with email or slack or teams or one of these other apps when there is a heated conversation, and it becomes this sort of trap that is self-perpetuating.
And that can escalate versus asynchronous video communication could possibly nip that in the bud and prevent more back and forth communication from even having to occur. Isn't that correct?
Only if it matters how we say things versus what we say, and you have to believe that's true. We just did a study of 2000 remote workers and all the most, all of them, like 99% of them said.
That they have to re-type or clarify a message that they've written on a chat tool or an email because it came across wrong that's every day that you've got to reclarify and those are the ones that are called out or stated, right? How many of those don't get called out or just accepted or make things go wrong?
So there is a big risk to the efficiency of that written message. Certainly for messages like lunch is here or weigh in with your t-shirt size. We don't need to know how you really feel when you're saying those things, but for the work that we're doing, does it matter how we say things? Yes. And, and the classic example is we need to talk.
That message is written can go about 20 different ways. Some are good, some are bad. Right? And this is the resistance. Like if you've ever gotten to a misunderstanding on something like slack, you know, and they know. If you move to schedule a meeting, they're going to wonder if something even bigger is up and now you're like playing your hand and, and there's all this unspoken potential emotional baggage that just doesn't need to be there.
Cause, cause all you needed to say is, Hey, we need to talk. And there's no way you're mistaking that you know that I've got something and I can't wait to tell you about it and you're going to be excited about it too, but we need to talk dot, dot, dot. Jeff Hunt:
Yeah. That could go any number of ways for sure. Yeah.
Actually, I was coaching doing executive coaching. This was a number of years ago when. The CEO of a company and his president. And so doing coaching both of these executives, and they had this challenge with an email where things would escalate an email and they would get in “email fights”, quote-unquote.
And we had to come to an agreement that they would not reply to the same thread more than twice. They had to make a commitment to pick up the phone or walk down the hall. This was pre-COVID and actually voiced those concerns. So I can absolutely just validate what you're saying about the challenge with written text.
Yeah, absolutely. It can be a trap, but it's also a blessing because you can batch a bunch of messages or emails in the corners of your day and knock out 15 emails for three o'clock and whatever, but that's kind of what we're trying to solve with volley is allow the richness of talking and the flexibility of texting all in one.
Topic 5. Productivity and meetings, is there a correlation? Are organizations ready for the future? (20:47)
Got it. And so you mentioned there is actually a need to have face-to-face meetings or meetings on zoom if you can't meet face-to-face but is there a correlation between productivity and how often team members meet?
Well, if we're talking about meeting in a traditional sense, I don't think there is. Or if there is it's inverse because. And the question is productivity.
What do we define as productivity? Because I think everyone who schedules a meeting thinks that that is productivity because we need to get together. And why do we need together? Well, we need to move work forward. Okay. But do we really need to meet for an hour to do that? That's a question. So it depends on how we define productivity, but in my book, I define productivity as doing the job or getting the results that you were hired to do.
Right? And we were all hired to do a job we know and have a sense of what that job is. And that job probably isn't sitting in meetings. I don't know that anyone really has that as part of their job description, although it is part of almost every knowledge worker, job description, right. If that's the case, if that's true, then technically meetings get in the way of you doing your job or getting those results or making that sales call or writing those marketing materials or getting the new video produced or whatever that is.
You do need to coordinate those things, but the amount that you can reduce that coordination and allow for the maximum amount of deep work and flow, the better. If anything, I would say there is an inverse correlation to the number of meetings or face-to-face time and productivity because they tend to fight each other, even though on the fringes they can certainly complement each other.
And therefore, what we're trying to solve is just reduce the synchronous time as much as possible. All of the rest of the time you to spend for what could you do on a meatless Monday, man? Ah, can you even imagine a meatless Monday? Oh, I just feel so good.
Oh, you to move to migrate to the four-day work week, right?
You've shared a bunch of ways that are very progressive, that companies could solve some of these problems. Are all organizations really ready for this progressive approach?
Well, I thought so for nine months. When I launched Bolley, we have a few thousand examples of the world's not ready. I mean, we certainly do have teams, collaborating and volleying and that use case up and working and it's exciting, but I just can't believe what percentage of people are not ready for this, even though.
We've had YouTube for almost two decades, even though Tik TOK, even though Snapchat, even though we've had phones in our pockets for over a decade, I am staring at the face of people every day because. When you sign up for a while, you get a conversation with the team of Volley. And usually, I jump into that conversation if someone's willing to chat, but I'm staring at someone who's recording the very first video of themselves.
In their life, even though they've made dozens of videos of other people with their phones, they've never turned that phone to themselves. And this is the creator consumer dynamic playing out in the workplace. And it blows my mind as someone who grew up with a video camera stitched to his hand, I made thousands of videos and have a YouTube channel, all that stuff.
It's like, really¡? You're not ready for this? So that's okay. I had hoped that the world was ready for this. The pandemic was the thing that would've broken the dam. It certainly cracks the dam and there is water flowing through. And eventually, that will burst, right? The dam hasn't quite burst.
This pent-up demand is still there. So, and at the same time, we have all kinds of awesome learning communities and coaching and cool stuff happening in Volley that, you know, we're, we're building a great business out of. But the team use cases, the one that on paper, we were like, that's a slam.
Suddenly everyone's remote. They have to communicate and collaborate. You still need to talk to move work forward, but now talking is hard. How do you do that across time zones? Across boundaries? Ah, video messaging is the solution. So I do believe it is, especially when the Snapchat and Tik TOK generation is in charge, but they're not quite in charge yet.
And maybe they don't have the influence on the team yet. There, there are still quite a few CEDS. But I like challenging the status quo, so.
For sure. And so I'm just wondering if organizations could help accelerate the readiness by teaching and training employees and managers, to be more comfortable with video and recording themselves.
Do you feel like that’s a possible growth pathway to readiness?
I don't know, to be really honest, about this problem. I feel like I finally got my hands around it just in the last month. And it felt like at first it was just like a feature problem. Cause from these users, we'd hear things like, oh, when are you going to have audio volleys?
Like, I don't, I'm not camera ready, you know? And they were like, oh, okay, well, we're going to build voice volleys. And then they're not used. And then we hear, oh, when are you going to have filters? Oh, where did you go? Oh my goodness. Whoa. And it's not about features. That's what I'm realizing. There's a deeply human problem that we have our hands around here and that's a willingness to be seen.
And it seems that for the most part. Most teams are still really not willing to be seen. We're more interested in hiding behind a slack message because I can think about it and I set obsess and get my bullet point. Right. And change that word. And then I can wait a minute before I send it. And then I send it right.
Or I can wait for my opportune time to poke up in a meeting, or I can leave my camera off on zoom. And that's hiding behavior. All of those are hiding behaviors. So until human beings are willing to be seen, willing to be vulnerable, willing, to truly be seen whether right or wrong and culture is willing to allow that.
I think we're going to have a hard time and yeah, you could train your face off about video. I just don't. It's just going to scratch the surface in my mind until we get kind of around something deeper or just people who have kind of grown up in this, this feels second nature, and being seen is something to be proud of, not something to be afraid of.
Topic 6. Can leadership help with the adoption of new technologies? (27:56)
I'm reflecting on the importance of leadership, sort of driving the charge for something like this, because in my experience and what we've seen with a lot of our clients as if the C-suite executives. Are truly adopting and engaging with tools, not only like Volley, but any other tech tools in a consistent manner with a predictable cadence where they're actually using them regularly, then the rest of the organization really does adopt better.
And you will have some holdouts, but eventually that kind of peer-to-peer accountability brings everybody to the same table.
Well, I used to think that more than I do today, certainly it's true, but the leader needs both authority and influence and not all leaders have that. And it just requires so much gravity.
It's not just the CEO picking a volley cause I got hundreds of them. I could point to. And I know I'm talking about the solution and then I'm telling you why it's not going to work. What a terrible CEO, what a terrible founder. Right. But I'm just, I'm speaking truth here. I've got a bunch of CEOs and, and really team collaboration is an all or nothing proposition and something like slack while it's not ideal.
It's. The best of the worst, you know, so sort of solution.
So, having said all of that, what are your, what are your predictions about the future of work? Like how long do you see this taking to come to fruition? And what can people do also pragmatically today that are stuck in sort of zoom doom and slack, crack?
Well, Where I see the future of work going is only a place that's more flexible only a place that's more dynamic, more balanced. What we all want it to be like. COVID really did break something like the toothpaste is out of the tube. It's not going back in. We're not going back in the box.
We're not more interested. In fact, I've got two engineers who just joined the team because, and they're world-class engineers that I only got them because they wanted something different. Their team wanted to get them back in the box and they were like, no, like I just love this lifestyle. So the future of work is walking your dog in a coffee shop at home, in an office all in the same day.
And you can't slack while walking a dog, you can't zoom in a coffee shop or you shouldn't. So what would the communication tool of the future of work even look like if you can't use those in those places? Well, it's a, shape-shifter, it's one that shows up, like you need it to so that you can show up and that's very much what we're focused on is kind of this balanced, flexible, dynamic future of work.
You can catch up on the conversation while you're walking the dog and even chime in or, you know read the transcript while you're in a coffee shop. And that's what it ultimately needs to be, but it's going to take time. How much time? I don’t know. I built a software platform called Bloomfire, which today is a premier knowledge management platform.
And I thought in 2009, the world would be ready to share knowledge. We using videos and screen records, closed social platform for work. Right. And this is, of course, this is the year after Twitter launched the course working world's ready for this, but no, it took like 10 years for that. So maybe this is another 10 year run we’ll see.
Well, as we both know, running software companies, they usually take a lot longer to bring to fruition and cost a lot more money than you originally expect. And then you're right on target, just like a home improvement project, right?
Yep. That's right. What's the, what's the quote. We overestimate technology's impact in the short term but underestimate its impact in the long term and I think that's definitely what we're focused on in the long term.
Topic 7. Lighting round questions (32:08)
Very well-stated. Let's switch to some lightning-round questions. What are you most grateful for?
Well, if we're talking generally, I would have to say, God number one. And my family, number two.
What is the most difficult leadership lesson you've learned over your career?
It's avoiding conflict. I've paid a dear price for avoiding conflict between leaders and co-founders.
And it's something I continuously have to work on is addressing conflict. pet on and mining for conflict is Patrick Lencioni says.
It's such a ubiquitous challenge with almost all of humanity. That seems like there are very few people that love to lean into conflict. And so that's going to resonate with a lot of people, including myself.
So I appreciate your vulnerability in sharing that who is one person you would interview if you could living or not?
Well, it just occurred to me at the beginning of this interview that I want to interview Robert Kiyosaki. Haven't even thought about that for years. So why not? Right. That's what I'm thinking right now.
Bring that book home.
All the way. Sign this thing. This dog-eared ruffled mess of a book that I have now.
Do you have any other book recommendations? You recommended that one, which is fantastic. I want to reread it. I haven't read it for a long time, but I want to reread it, any other books?
I read it a few years ago and I was like, man. So I think for some people, from some places that book is a revelation, but I've given it to a lot of people that are. Yeah, man. I already know this stuff and I'm like, well, yeah, you grew up in a rich family or yeah. You grew up in this place that understands business or whatever.
Right. So, the book I usually recommend is word of mouth marketing by Andy Cernovich, I think is a fantastic book. I've read it half a dozen times.
Nice. What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Play with all cards on the table. Which means my data is your data. Your truth is my truth. We share all.
Transparency and vulnerability, right? Yep. Well, Josh, tell us what the most single most important takeaway would be that you'd like to share with our listeners from our talk today.
Oh, that Josh probably that Josh Little is just a pretty awesome guy. I think that's. How about a, there's a new way to communicate if you're willing to be seen?
Well, Josh, thanks so much for sharing this wisdom today. This is a great conversation.
You bet. It's been my pleasure. Thanks for having me, Jeff.
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