Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Restore a Mac formatted 6th Gen iPod nano in Windows 7

Posted in Apple, botch, Mac OS X by commorancy on September 22, 2012

I recently picked up a sixth generation iPod nano refurbished from Gamestop. When I got home and plugged it into iTunes for Windows 7, iTunes recognized it as a Macintosh formatted iPod and said that it needed to be restored. Here’s where the fun begins.. not. Several things happened after I plugged it in. First, Windows recognized it as drive O: and opened a requester wanting to format the iPod. This format panel stays open until cancelled. Second, when I tried to restore the iPod, iTunes kept showing me error 1436, which is a rather non-descript error that takes you to a mostly generic Apple help page that is only moderately helpful. I take that back, this help page wasn’t helpful at all.

Note, Macintosh formatted iPods cannot be used with Windows. However, Windows formatted iPods can be used on both Windows and Macs. So, this is simply a problem that exists because this iPod was originally formatted on a Mac. Such stupid issues that cause such time wasting problems.

How did the first restore go?

It didn’t. I realized the above mentioned Windows disk format panel had the iPod open and the 1436 error was due to this. However, that was just the beginning of the problems. When I cancelled that panel and I tried the restore again, I got a different issue. Basically, iTunes opens a progress bar that keeps moving without any progress. I wasn’t sure if this progress panel was normal or abnormal. Although, I suspected abnormal after 3 minutes without any changes. So, I began searching for how long an iPod restore should take. I found that restore should complete in only a few minutes (less actually). So, I knew something was wrong when it wasn’t making any progress.

Disk Mode

It was clear that iTunes wasn’t going to restore this iPod through its normal means. I began searching on the net for how to recover this iPod and ran into a site that led me to Apple’s How to put an iPod in Disk Mode help page. This page is actually very useful and where the 1436 error page should have led me but didn’t.

What is Disk Mode? Disk Mode puts the iPod into a state that allows it to be formatted as a disk. Well, you don’t really want to format it. Instead, in Disk Mode, it gets rid of all that pesky Macintosh formatting garbage and actually lets you restore it properly. For the sixth gen iPod nano, to put it in Disk Mode, press and hold the power and volume down buttons until the screen turns black and the Apple logo appears. When you see the Apple logo, press and hold both volume up and down buttons until the iPod shows a white screen. This is the Disk Mode screen.


At this point, I plugged the iPod back in with iTunes running and iTunes saw that the iPod was ‘corrupted’ and asked to restore it. Well, the restoration this time went like a champ. No issues at all. However, after I restored it, I did have to close out of iTunes and restart iTunes. Until I did that, iTunes kept telling me that the iPod was in ‘Recovery Mode’ even though I knew that it wasn’t based on the screen of the iPod. After restarting iTunes, that stopped and it finally recognized the iPod as new and let me put music on it. Yay!

So, there you have it. Although, it should have been as simple as plug-in and restore. But, Apple had to make this a chore because of the PC vs Mac formatting thing. Seriously, is that even necessary?


Let me take a moment to commend Apple on this design of this iPod nano. When the first long skinny nano was first released, I thought it was kind of cool, but not worth it. Then the smaller squatty nano arrived and I liked that design so much that I bought one. I got my use out of that and eventually bought an iPod touch. However, the iPod touch isn’t useful in all circumstances and I wanted something smaller and lighter. When this nano was released, I always thought it was a great idea and well executed save for the fact that it has no application support. So, here’s where Apple dropped the ball on this one.

The size and weight is awesome. The look is great, especially if you get a watch band. It just needed a refresh to add a few more features like Bluetooth, video (although, not really necessary in my book) and apps support. I loved the square display because this is the exact image ratio of CD covers. So, it was the perfect marriage between a music player and a user interface. Some people complained that the touch display was overkill. Perhaps, but I always liked it, but I have never needed one of these. I still don’t really need one. The reason I bought one is because Apple has discontinued this model in lieu of it’s bigger screen cousin.

The new nano, however is neither nano in size nor is it really that small. This nano was the perfect size and perfect shape. It truly deserved the name nano. However, the new nano is really not deserving of that name. The screen is too big and it’s really just a dumbed down iPod touch. Yes, the new nano has video capabilities, but so what? I don’t plan on ever loading video on it. Without WiFi or streaming mechanisms, there’s no point. I realize Apple wants to enrich their ecosystem (read, sell more videos to people), but this isn’t the device to do it. In fact. this latest nano design to ship late 2012 is really not that great looking. I feel that it’s stepping too far into the same territory as the iPod touch. So, why do this? It’s also bigger, bulkier and likely heavier. The battery life is probably shorter even. It’s no longer a small portable player.

The 6th generation iPod nano (this one I just bought) is truly small and light. It can go just about anywhere and has a built-in clip even! It lacks some features, yes, but for a music player I certainly don’t miss them. If you’re thinking of buying a 6th generation iPod nano, you should do it now while the Apple outlet still has them in stock. Yes, they are refurbished, but they’re still quite spectacular little music players. However, don’t go into the purchase expecting the feature-set of an iPhone or an iPod touch. It’s not here. If you go into the purchase thinking it’s an iPod shuffle with a display, then you won’t be disappointed with the purchase.

Apple’s ever changing product line

What I don’t get about Apple is removing a product from its product lineup that clearly has no competition in the marketplace at all, let alone having no competition even within its own product lineup. Yet, here we are. Apple is dropping the 6th generation design in lieu of the 7th generation design that’s bigger and bulkier (and likely heavier). In fact, it looks a lot like a smaller dumbed-down iPod touch.

In reality, the 7th gen nano is so close to becoming a tiny iPod touch clone that it clearly competes with the Touch. This is bad. The 6th generation nano (pictured above) in no way competes with the iPod touch, other than it has a tiny touch screen. The 6th generation nano design clearly still has a place in Apple’s lineup. I just don’t get why they dump products from their lineup and replace them with designs that aren’t likely to sell better (0ther than to those people who complained you couldn’t play video on the 6th gen nano). The 6th gen nano is great for the gym or while running. However, after this newest nano is introduced, if you want a square sized small music player, you have to get a shuffle with no display. The bigger bulkier 7th gen design just won’t work for most activity use cases. Apple, your design team needs to better understand how these devices are actually being used before you put pen to paper on new designs, let alone release them for public consumption. Why is it always just one device? Why can’t you have both in the product lineup?

Of course, if they had retained an updated 6th gen model along with adding the 7th gen model, then that would make a lot more sense. Removing the older model in lieu of this one, this is not a replacement design. You can’t wear this one like a watch. So, that whole functionality is gone. What I would like to have seen is two models. A 6th gen revamped to add more features like Bluetooth and perhaps a camera and, at the same time, introducing this new video capable model. The updated 6th gen doesn’t need to playback movies, the screen is too tiny for that. In fact, the screen on this new 7th gen model is too tiny for that. Even the iPod touch is too tiny for watching movies, in practicality. It’s not until you get to the iPad does watching a movie even become practical. In a pinch, yes you could watch a video or movie, but you’d be seriously straining your eyes. I’d rather do that (or rather, not strain my eyes) with a much bigger screen. No, an updated square-format touch screen iPod is still very much necessary in the lineup. I understand Apple’s need for change here, but not for the use case that’s now lost with this 7th generation iPod. Sometimes, Apple just doesn’t seem to get it. This is just one of a new series of cracks in the armor that is the new Jobs-less era Apple. Welcome to the new Apple folks.


WiFi on Amtrak: Traveling Connected

Posted in streaming media, technologies, travel by commorancy on September 16, 2012

Recently, I took am Amtrak train to St. Louis (via Chicago) on the California Zephyr.  While the trip had some breathtaking views through the Rocky Mountains, remaining connected throughout that trip was very much a challenge.  Let’s explore.

Verizon MiFi

Verizon Jetpack MiFiAbout a week before I was to hop on the train, I thought it might be a good idea to buy a Verizon MiFi device for the trip.  After all, Amtrak says they have WiFi on the trains, but they also say that the connectivity speed is limited and streaming of any kind is restricted.  So, I decided to buy my own hotspot for the trip to stay connected without restrictions.  Verizon has a 4G LTE Jetpack, and that’s what I chose.  I bought the unit without a contract, so I paid full price for the unit with $50 a month service (4 GB cap).  Verizon, at that time, only offered 3 different MiFi devices.  A thicker square unit that has a blue LED-type display, two rectangular units, one with bright white text display (see image) and one with only a battery status display.  The square unit has less battery life and is quite a bit bigger.  The unit with only a status display is older and the unit I chose was I believe the newest of the three, the smallest and has the best battery life.  One other important reason I chose this device (pictured to the left), is that it will operate while charging (this is important if you  don’t want to wait an hour or two for it to charge).  The older rectangular Jetpack will not operate while charging.  I know this because we have one that gets passed around at work for on-call purposes and that limitation about that version sucked.  So, I specifically looked for a unit that could operate while charging.

Note: I would post pictures here of all three units, but these units will be outdated in 6 months and new units will be available.  So, you should check Verizon.com to see whatever is available today rather than trying to search for what I’ve purchased. 

Virgin MiFi

I also have an older Virgin 3G MiFi.  I had purchased this one from Best Buy about a year ago.  I originally purchased this because I didn’t want to invest in the data service on the iPad as it’s locked only to the iPad (cannot be tethered or become a hotspot without jailbreaking the unit).  So, I bought the Virgin MiFi back then to allow me to use it with my phone, iPad, iPod touch or notebook.  Much more flexible (and cheaper) than the AT&T or Verizon built-in 3G on the iPad.  So, I carried this one with me on the trip also.

Why two MiFi devices?

Well, I already had the Virgin mobile 3G MiFi, but since it uses Sprint’s 3G network I wasn’t sure how reliable the connectivity would be during the trip.  Because Verizon touts its ‘great coverage’, I bought into that spiel and purchased a Verizon unit as backup.  So, I thought that if one failed to have connectivity that the other one might.  The Verizon is also 4G and I thought I might get 4G speeds along some parts of the trip.  So, let’s explore how that worked out.

How did it work out?

Not too well.  The 4G on the Verizon MiFi was a complete waste.  When I did have connectivity on the Verizon MiFi, it was always 3G.  The only exception to this was major cities.  By major cities, I mean major cities (like Chicago) and 3G everywhere else (whenever there was connectivity.. we’ll come to this).  There was absolutely zero 4G connectivity anywhere along the California Zephyr route except in California when I started and in the outskirts of Chicago.  Everywhere else was 3G.

How much connectivity did I have?  In most of Nevada, there was absolutely nothing for long stretches.  No phone service, no 3G, nothing.  Just one big dead spot.  The Rocky Mountains were mostly dead also, but that’s expected due to the mountains. Once I had gotten through Nevada and the Rockies, though, there was spotty connectivity whenever the train would be close to a medium sized city.  Most of the service along the route was 1 or 2 bars when it was there.  That’s not to say I didn’t have service, though.  When there was service, it lasted for a while.  Long enough to get email, send responses, etc.  So, it was at least there enough to get some work done.

On the way back, I took a different train and route.  This trek went from Kansas City to LA.  This route has a whole lot more availability of service, but still no 4G.  So, while the connectivity was more available, it wasn’t any more stable as it was still 1-2 bars.  So, streaming was still not possible.

Note, though, I did swap between both devices for several reasons.  I always preferred using the Virgin MiFi whenever available as it has unlimited service with no data cap.  There’s a data cap on the Verizon service and I wanted to reserve usage of that to places where the Virgin device didn’t work (which was a lot more frequent than it should have been, but not unexpected).

So, the Verizon device did have connectivity somewhat more frequently than the Virgin (Sprint network) device.  Since both ran at 3G speeds, they both had similar speed of transfers at 1-2 bars, which is fast enough for email, text messaging and limited surfing, but not much more than that.

T-Mobile Phone Service

Note that my phone is T-Mobile and the service here didn’t fare any better than the MiFi devices.  However, whenever the Verizon device had service, so did T-Mobile.  So, I was pleasantly surprised by similar phone connectivity along the route to Verizon.  However, my phone has no data plan, so I couldn’t use this for any additional service.  So, this is the need for carrying the MiFi devices.

Streaming Media

Because the service was 1-2 bars most of the time and 3G, there is no way to reliably stream anything.  Even at the highest numbers of bars, 3G still has a hard time streaming YouTube or Netflix.  At 1 bar, there is just no way to stream.  I tried streaming Stillstream.com on the train and it just kept cutting in and out.  I would get about 2 minutes of stream and then it would cut off.  Just not a great way to listen to online radio.  So, streaming is definitely out.  Streaming radio should be quite a bit lighter than streaming video.  On the train, streaming video simply won’t work.  Expect to bring along offline media like downloaded movies or disks.

What about Amtrak WiFi?

Apparently, few trains have it.  I was in a sleeper and supposedly the sleeper cars were to have WiFi.  However, none of the trains had WiFi at all.   So, there was no way to use a train WiFi as backup as there was nothing.  I’m definitely glad I brought my own MiFi as otherwise I wouldn’t have had any connectivity.  Was getting the Verizon Jetpack worth it?  Not really considering the connectivity level of the Virgin device.  If I hadn’t had a device at all, then perhaps.  However, the 4G doesn’t work at all on the train, and 3G was not that great, either.  At least, not for streaming.  Although, I will say that the Verizon device did at least offer service more frequently than Virgin, but not more frequently that I’d run out and buy a Verizon device just to travel on Amtrak.  Since the Virgin device is cheaper (at least for the plan I have), then it was enough.  However, Virgin has changed up their plans again, so it may not be such a great deal for 3G connectivity.


I’m glad I had MiFi devices so I could at least check email, respond, text message and do limited surfing.  This was great for that purpose (when the service wasn’t completely dead).  However, expect to bring along books to read, movies to watch and other offline media.  Don’t expect to watch YouTube, Netflix or download stuff while traveling on Amtrak as it just won’t work for that.  Amtrak needs to improve this part of the travel experience as connectivity is important to a lot of people today.  Not having the Internet is really an oversight that needs to be corrected.

Additionally, carriers like Verizon need to plant more towers along Amtrak train routes to offer better connectivity (and 4G service) to Amtrak trains.  Amtrak and the carriers need to partner to offer service on the trains that is of higher quality all along the way instead of long stretches of dead spots.  On the flip side, though, if you’re on the train you may want to be cut off from the world without phone or internet service.  I can understand this as well, but for those who want to surf (especially at night when it’s extremely dark outside the train), you’ll have to find something else to do during dead spots.

Both Amtrak and the carriers need to improve this as traveling by train is actually relaxing and a fun way to see the country which you completely miss when flying. In fact, the California Zephyr offers scenery that you can see no other way than by train as there are no roads that lead through parts of the route they take. So, traveling by train is definitely a fun way to see the country.  Yes, much slower than by plane, but a whole lot more scenic.  Because of the length of travel it takes to get across country by train, having reliable Internet service is actually something Amtrak needs to address.  Amtrak just needs to bring itself up to today’s technology and get better connectivity on the trains.  This is not an impossible task, it just needs a bit of investment by both the carriers and by Amtrak.

Shopping Frustration: When coupon codes don’t work

Posted in shopping by commorancy on September 4, 2012

Nothing is more frustrating during online shopping than when e-tailers send out a coupon code for a one day sale that doesn’t work.  I have to wonder, are these sites just stupid, clueless or technically inept?  Let’x explore.

Holiday Shopping Spree

If you’re like me, I tend to shop for things when people send me coupon codes.  Specifically, I shop when things are wearing out. I try to make sure these purchase times match up when coupon codes are available.  So, I like to wait for sale days like Memorial Day, President’s Day or, like today, Labor Day.  So, I’m happy when companies where I like to shop send me a 20% or 30% off coupon.  I generally like to take advantage of these deals because they don’t appear that frequently and I can shop for clothes that are wearing out.

Clickable Ad Banners in Email

Unfortunately, many of these e-tail sites are so inept or mismanaged that they email out the code but they forget to activate the code.  Sometimes they deactivate it too early.  Worse, they send an email with a big clickable banner ad describing this ‘Sale’ that, when you click, takes you to their home page and not to the sale items that apply to the code.  This action leaves you wondering what the heck is actually on sale?   One word comes to mind: inept.  Retailers, this is a seriously stupid practice.  If you send out an email that you’re having a 20% off sale, a click should immediately take you to the sales item(s).  Don’t make your customers guess what’s on sale.   In the case where I am taken to the front page, I close the browser, delete the email and move on.  Sorry, you’ve just lost a sale and I simply won’t shop there.  I know I’m not alone in this.  A lot of people fill their carts and either abandon the cart or clear it out because of stupid things like coupon codes that don’t work.

Coupon Codes that Don’t Work

I’ve had many times where some company sends me a coupon code that when you type it into the cart and click ‘Apply’, the message says ‘This coupon is not valid’ or ‘This coupon does not apply to the items in your cart’.  This goes back to the above issue.  If you’re planning to issue a coupon code and spend the time and effort to email your email list with this code, you damned well better test that code to make sure it works and you damned well better make sure the customers know to which items the code applies.  Don’t make your customers guess.  Additionally, for 24 hour sales, you should make also sure that code works until midnight.  And by this I mean, make sure it works until midnight of the customer’s timezone, not just your company’s timezone. That coupon should not expire at midnight your company’s timezone time as that could be midday in some locales. The code should expire at midnight wherever your shopper resides or better, expire it the following day sometime during the day to prevent expiration before the day is over for every customer and also lets late customers take advantage.  After all, isn’t the idea behind a coupon code to get people into your site to purchase?

Customers walking away

Making stupid moves like not activating coupons, deactivating them early or making your customers guess as to what merchandise the coupon applies is just a stupid practice.  You probably think I’m talking about small mom-and-pop shops here.  No, these are well known well respected companies that are making these most basic mistakes, like Jockey, Tommy Bahama and Zagg.

Nothing is more frustrating than filling up your cart with merchandise expecting to use a coupon code only to find that it doesn’t work.  Or, worse, not finding the merchandise to which the sale or coupon applies.  In these cases, I empty the cart, close the browser window and delete the email.  If these companies do this more than once,  I remove myself from their email list as it’s quite clear that these companies do not have their act together.  Which, if you think about it, is completely odd.  These are retailers in business to make money.  If you’re planning to offer a sale that uses a coupon code and that code doesn’t work, do you really think people are going to pay full price anyway?  No.  Selling your merchandise is your bread and butter and if you want people to buy your stuff, then you need to make sure your email ads reflect the reality of your site.  If it doesn’t work, then you have even more serious issues on your hands, not the least of which might be considered fraud.

Amazon Better?

I just don’t understand this practice.  This is why Amazon is kicking butt.  With Prime, you get 2 day shipping included and the best price without hassling with coupon codes.  Sure, you might be able to find it slightly cheaper at some mom-and-pop shop.  But, the hassle of setting up a new account and dealing with yet more email that can’t do it right outweighs the few pennies of savings you might get from that mom-and-pop shop.  So, I always find myself back at Amazon buying, at least for hassle-free purchasing.  I don’t want to deal with coupon codes that don’t work, sites that don’t specify what’s on sale or silly stupid problems like this.

For those sites that do this, fix your sites or lose the sale and be trampled by Amazon.  It’s quite simple.

Patent Wars: When IP protection becomes anti-competitive

Posted in Android, Apple, business by commorancy on September 3, 2012

So, who wins when companies like Apple and Samsung battle over intellectual property? No one. Here’s why.

Apple doesn’t win

Apple thinks they will win because they think this action will block a rival product based on the fact that they claim they invented it first. In fact, it’s not that they ‘invented’ it first, it’s because they patented it first. Whomever gets to the patent office gets exclusivity. That’s how patent law works. However, Apple won’t win because of the negative publicity backlash that it is now unfolding onto the Apple brand. The backlash against Apple is already beginning and it may end up becoming Apple’s downfall.

Seriously, are we to believe that there is any possibility of confusion between a Samsung device running Android and an Apple device running IOS? The operating systems aren’t even remotely similar. The sole and only reason to prevent another company from putting something on the market is to avoid brand or product confusion. I hardly think that anyone would confuse a Samsung Galaxy device clearly labeled with the Samsung brand with an Apple device clearly labeled with the Apple brand. Heck, the Galaxy devices don’t even resemble the iPhone now.

Clerk: Why are you returning this device today?

Consumer: Oh, I’m bringing this Samsung back because I thought it was an iPhone.

I don’t think so. This is not a likely scenario at all. I can’t imagine any consumer could walk into a Samsung retailer and confuse a Galaxy S with an iPhone. So, why is Apple so adamant that this device is a threat to their survival? In fact, if anything is a threat to Apple’s survival, it’s Apple. Playing these legal games is the best way to actually make consumers become aware and interested in the exact devices they hope to prevent being placed onto store shelves. If Apple had left well enough alone, these devices would have fallen into obscurity on their own and the iPhone would still reign supreme. Calling undue attention to another device, in just the way Apple is doing, is just ripe to backfire on Apple. And, backfire it appears to be doing. Way to go Apple.

Samsung doesn’t win

I’m not going to cheer for Samsung here. Are they a victim? Not really. They’re a large corporation that’s out to make a buck on a design that’s far too similar to one that someone else created. I won’t say that Apple is in the right here, but Samsung is also not in the right by doing what they did. I personally don’t like Samsung devices. They’re too unreliable and don’t last. I’ve bought many Samsung devices and they just don’t hold up long enough. The quality is too low for the price they charge. Making quality products is a whole separate issue from producing a product that cashes in on a look from a competitor. Samsung, at least have the decency to hire designers that produce original looking devices designs. It’s really not that hard. There are plenty of good industrial designers who could produce a high quality unique case design that could easily rival Apple’s designs without looking remotely like an Apple product. More than that, though, why not make products that actually last?

Consumers don’t win

By getting injunctions to prevent products from hitting the store shelves, this is tantamount to legalized anti-competitive practices. Legalized because the courts agree with and, further, set up injunctions to prevent these devices from hitting the shelves or be sold within the US. This hurts the consumer because now there is less choice. Apple’s thinking is that with less choice comes more likelihood that the consumer will choose Apple instead. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t take into account the PR nightmare that’s unfolding here. Apple, don’t underestimate the consumer’s intelligence. Consumers understand that Apple is taking legalized anti-competitive measures to try to win the consumer choice war. It is, however, the consumer’s choice as to what phone to buy and use. It is not Apple’s choice. Companies, when they get to a certain size and arrogance, tend to forget or choose to ignore consumer choice. This is capitalism and consumers have freedom of choice.

Consumers will vote with their wallets in the end and that will likely be to Apple’s detriment in the long haul. Instead, Apple needs to drop this lawsuit now and let these devices onto the market from Samsung. Let the devices hold their own or fail on their own merits. The consumers will decide what they want to use. Since there is not a real possibility that consumers could mistake a Galaxy S Android phone for an IOS based iPhone, there is really no damage done here. It’s only perceived damage.

The real damage being done today, that Apple is doing to itself, is the public relations debacle they face with consumer sentiment. Consumer sentiment is real and it is tangible and it can make or break a company. The longer these IP issues drag on and the more devices they try to block, the more people will pull away from Apple and leave the company, once again, high and dry.

Apple’s future uncertain

Apple needs to stop, look and listen. They need to make better, faster and more useful devices instead of pulling out the legal team to fight a losing battle. Keep the innovation going. Forget the old wars and move on. Heck, the whole thing started because Samsung made a phone that resembled the iPhone 3 case style. They don’t even sell the iPhone 3 case style anymore. The Galaxy Tab looks nothing remotely like an iPad either. So, the whole ‘it looks like an IOS device’ issue is now moot. It’s just being dragged on because of Job’s complete hated of Android.

Unfortunately for Apple, Android is here to stay and it’s not going away anytime soon. Locking out Samsung does not in any way lock out LG or HTC or any other device that runs Android. Instead, Apple needs to focus on innovation with IOS and its new devices and drop this PR nightmare that’s now unfolding in the consumer space. If Apple wants to drive a wedge between the consumer and the company, Apple’s current legal strategy is perfect. If Apple wants to produce high quality easy-t0-use devices, that goal has nothing to do with blocking the sale of similar devices via legal channels.

Apple is now officially full of sour grapes.

How not to run a business (Part 5) — Meeting Edition

Posted in best practices, business by commorancy on September 2, 2012

In this edition of ‘How not to run a business’, the topic is meetings. Do they help or hurt your business? Let’s explore. I’ll start this one out with a ‘Do’.

Do set up meetings between sales staff and prospective clients

Sales meetings are entirely out of the scope of this article. Sales meetings are the only truly critical and needed business meetings. Sales meetings are also part of a salesperson’s job. So, for sales meetings, bring in anyone who is needed to ensure a deal is closed. If that means bringing in technical staff, then do it. If that means bringing in the CEO, do it. Of course, the personnel involvement level also depends on the size of the deal. If it’s a $10 a month deal, this is probably not worth involving everyone in the company. If it’s a $300,000 a year contract, then by all means create meetings with whomever it takes to close this deal. Sales meetings are the only type of meetings where some of these rules below do not apply. So, keep this in mind when reading through this article. The only other piece of advice I will add that’s outside of the scope of this article is, don’t oversell. That is, your sales team is there to help close deals you can actually support. Your sales team should never close a deal based on something that doesn’t presently exist as a product. Selling vapor products is a huge corporate no-no.

Don’t create a meeting based on personal opinion

Meetings are about communication transfer, not about personal opinions. Yes, we all have opinions, but business meetings are not the platform to express your opinion. You can do this in email or stopping by someone’s desk. Opinions impart no useful information about an objective. Getting the job done and whom handles specific pieces of that job, that’s a valid reason to gather a meeting. Discussing why you don’t like something about the business, that’s opinion and irrelevant to the job at hand. If you have an opinion that leads to a fundamental design change that works to solve a problem, then by all means create a meeting involving the design change, not involving your opinion.

Don’t expect productivity from employees while in meetings

Meetings quite simply halt employee productivity. When an employee is away from his/her desk in a conference room listening to someone discuss something irrelevant to their job at hand, then that is quite simply lost productivity. As a manager or business owner, you hire your employees to be at their desks doing the job you hired them to do. However, if they are continually being required to attend meetings, they cannot be at their desk doing that job you hired them to do. This means that for every minute of time the employee spends in the meeting, that’s minutes you paid for that employee to not do their job and not be productive. Meetings often solve nothing which leads to completely lost productivity.

Don’t expect your employees to make up for productivity lost while in meetings

If an employee spends half or more of their day attending meetings, don’t expect that employee to put in overtime or spend after hours time making up for lost productivity in those meetings. This is a completely unfair work life balance request. You have then asked them to sacrifice their personal time (either on or off the clock) to make up for that lost time spent in the meeting on the clock. This is not fair trade and is not be expected. If you expect this, you will eventually lose the talent it took you so long to actually find and hire.

Don’t call meetings with people who do not need to be there

Invite only the absolute minimum people you need to any meeting. Everyone else can learn from someone else. So, if a manager has 10 staff, only bring in 1 or 2 staff to attend a meeting and leave the rest at their desks working. Don’t invite all 10 of those staff simply because you want to have a staff meeting. You can rotate your staff through the staff meetings weekly so that each of them participate in a staff meeting at some point, but they don’t all need to be there every single time. Alternatively, sit with your staff at their desks one at a time and spend 5 minutes or so catching up on expected completion times for projects or other deadline work.

Don’t hold hour long meetings

Meetings should be as brief as possible. Fifteen (15) minutes is long enough time to impart most necessary information and simultaneously short enough to prevent the meeting from degrading into a pissing match between several people or other non-related discussions. At the same time, it prevents employees from being away from their desk and not being productive. Productivity is the key to your business success. The more productive your employees are, the more productive your business will be. Lack of productivity can be directly attributed to useless meetings among other time wasters.

Don’t hold (or allow your staff to hold) useless meetings

What exactly is a useless meeting?

  • Meetings that rehash existing topics and add no new information.
  • Meetings that are simply platforms for employees to express opinions.
  • Meetings that discuss extremely distant possible future projects without knowing any exact information.
  • Holding excessive numbers of meetings in a single day (leads to meeting overload).
  • Meetings that are overly long and overly verbose.
  • Meetings that degrade into unrelated topics.
  • Meetings that end up with multiple groups dividing and talking at once.

Meetings need to be as long as is necessary to explain a given topic, short enough to limit productivity loss.

Don’t hold meetings every single day of the week

Employees want to work at their desk, not sit in conference rooms doing no work and listening to someone else chatter. You hired your employees to do a job, having too many meetings is wasteful and also means you’re paying these employees for sitting in meetings rather than doing the job you hired them to do.

Don’t allow staff to hold meetings that consume nearly every work hour

When a company gets to a certain size, usually above 100 employees, meetings start becoming excessive. People begin scheduling meetings to discuss any and everything. I’ve been personally pulled into meetings that have consumed every single hour of my work day including, no surprise, the lunch hour. Granted, free food was supplied, but that doesn’t make up for all the work that didn’t get done. This is meeting overload. At the end of the day, you walk away from work knowing you got nothing done and, at the same time, feel like the meetings accomplished nothing. So, it was a completely unproductive day. But, my employer paid me nonetheless. Then the employee comes to the realization that they have about 3 due tasks the day after that meeting stretch. Meetings should not pull in staff who have critical deadlines the next day.

Don’t hold meetings during lunch hour without supplying lunch

If you plan to hold a meeting that spans through the lunch hour, then supply lunches to your staff. Don’t expect them to take a late lunch or skip their lunch as they might be tied up getting other work done and have no time to take a lunch after that meeting. This is both unfair to the employee and can get your business into legal hot water if any employees file a grievance. If at all possible, let your employees leave for lunch and reconvene the meeting after lunch is over or, alternatively, expect to order lunches for meetings that span the lunch hour.

Don’t let your meetings run long

Meetings need to be a predetermined length. Many times, meetings can degrade into a pissing match between one or several people over a single thing. Nip that behavior out quick. Have these employees table the discussion for later or have them take the discussion out of the room. The rest of the attendees likely don’t need to hear or even want to hear those discussions. Additionally, if you are unable to impart all of the information you expected to and the meeting is at an end, schedule a followup meeting for later, but not the next day. Let the people digest what they’ve heard. By the time you reconvene, there may be new information that would have invalidated your extra information (or even the entire meeting). If you can cut your meeting short, then do so.

Don’t feel obligated to use all of the reserved meeting time

If you have reserved a one hour slot, but you are done with what you need to say in 10 minutes, leave the conference room. Do not continue to hold the meeting after 10 minutes simply because you have the meeting room reserved. Let your employees get back to their desks as fast as possible. You hired your staff to do a specific job, let them do it. Remember that keeping people in extended meetings takes employees away from their desks.

Don’t schedule excessively long meetings

Schedule only the maximum amount of time you need to impart the information required. Don’t write a novel sized agenda, set up a 4 hour meeting and expect many attendees. Business meetings need to remain short. The shorter the better. Fifteen minutes is the optimal time. Long enough to get done what you need, short enough to get people back to their desks to become productive.

Don’t expect great things out of meetings

Meetings are a mixed bag. Sometimes they work, sometimes times they fail. I’ve been to many meetings where nothing was accomplished. That is, we were no better off after attending the meeting than before we joined the meeting. If you suspect (or know) your meeting will not bear fruitful results, then bring in the minimum people. If you didn’t realize your meeting would be fruitless, then you will need to understand why the meeting failed before setting up another meeting of that same topic. Don’t continue to press a failed topic if it’s not going anywhere. Drop the topic and move on.

Don’t schedule a meeting between two people

Meetings are intended for 3 or more people unless it happens to be an interview. Two people conference room meetings are a waste. Send email, call them or stop by their desk to ask your questions. Don’t go through the motions of reserving a conference room for two people.

Don’t expect as much produced from a meeting as can be produced from someone at their desk

Employees know their jobs. They know what they are doing. Or, at least they should know what they are doing as that’s why you hired them. Meetings are generally designed to discuss unknowns (how do we do this, how can we fix that, what happened with this, where are we with regards to blah, etc). Some of these questions can be asked one-on-one to the individuals involved and do not necessarily need 20 people together to ask this single question and get this single answer. Taking a number of people away from their desks for extended periods means that the employees are getting further behind in their work for topics that could be better handled in other ways. So, those employees now have to make up that one or possibly several hours of dead time for work that they were unable to do while sitting in a conference room. So, pull in only the people who absolutely must be there. Don’t bring in people who have no participation in that discussion.

Don’t use a meeting as a public whipping post

Meetings are and should be about business topics. That is, topics that further the business along. Meetings are not intended to be used as subterfuge to get people in a room for group tongue lashings. If you need to chastise an individual or group for failing to perform, do this one-on-one with each individual. If you need to have a group fail discussion, then produce an improvement plan. That is, design a ‘Here’s how we can do better next time’ approach. Chastising people without a way to correct the issues is fruitless. This type of meeting only serves to demoralize the team without anything productive from the meeting. Again, if you need this type of meeting, then bring in something positive to the meeting by discussing how to correct the issue and with improvement points for each team member to work through. Putting together a fail meeting solely chastise employees can open your business to legal hostile workplace issues, so be careful with these types of meetings.

Do encourage other communication methods for meetings

With GoToMeeting, Skype, Hangouts, IM and SMS you can easily talk to people in many other ways than holding a physical gathering in a room. Find alternative methods to keep people at their desks. At the same time, they can attend and participate in the meeting when they are needed. Otherwise, they can be productive at their desks. Taking your staff away from their desks for conference room gatherings is the fastest way to lost productivity that you are actively paying your staff to produce. Keep the people at their desks rather than sitting in a conference rooms listening, but producing nothing.

Part 4Chapter Index | Part 6

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