This year I attended two church conferences – greatly enjoying both – but there’s a complaint I have about virtually all conferences that I’ve ever attended, both for business and for church. In fact, this complaint (which I also direct to myself) can be applied to virtually any information transfer situation: a great article, a provocative book, a moving talk, even a stimulating unplanned discussion with a friend.
It has seemed to me that the effectiveness of most information transfer situations is significantly lessoned when we fail to take into account Quad II Avoidance.
Quad II Avoidance
Here I’m using Stephen Covey‘s well-known time management illustration. All activities are divided into four quadrants around a nexus of the urgency and importance of those activities.
- Quad I – Urgent and Important – example: a Heart Attack. It must be responded to and it must be responded to immediately.
- Quad II – Not Urgent and Important – example: Exercise. I don’t have to do it today, but it is very important that I do so.
- Quad III – Urgent and Not Important – example: a telemarketing call. It must be dispatched by either answering or screening the call. Yet it’s rarely important.
- Quad IV – Not Urgent and Not Important – example: I purchased a newspaper this morning and leafed through all the separate advertisements to get to the Best Buy and Staples ads. This activity was not urgent and it was not important.
Here’s how this dynamic works with conferences:
How many times have you attended a fantastic conference with stimulating and relevant content? It’s inspiring – your mind absorbs the concepts and your soul visions the possibilities. The conference ends and you return to your office. Because you’ve been gone, however, you return to an impressive plethora of voice mails and a daunting multiplicity of emails. With determination you attack them, dispatch them, and then return to your normal work flow with a sense of satisfaction at having quenched the flood. Happiness is an empty inbox. Sometime later, however, you remember the conference and realized you’ve done nothing with what you learned.
The deluge of vmails and emails you plowed through were Quad I and Quad III occurrences. If you’re the kind of person who stays in email all day, then you may not be differentiating between the two and spending an equal amount of attention and energy on both. In the meanwhile, important Quad II activities are ignored and we’ve fallen into the trap of Quad II Avoidance. This has also been called the Tyranny of the Urgent. When we live in Quad I, counterintuitively, we further ensure that we’ll spend more and more time in Quad I. When we spend more time in Quad II, we minimize (though we cannot eliminate) the amount of time we spend in Quad I. Using the example above, spending more time in the Quad II activity of exercise will lower the amount of time that we have to spend in Quad I health crises.
Conference organizers can attack this phenomenon very simply: Create space within the conference schedule when participants can meet to strategize how to operationalize conference learnings. In the context of church conferences, ideally each church has sent a team of folks. During designated times these teams could get together to
- brainstorm potential implementations based on what’s been learned,
- prioritize the better ideas,
- agree to what can reasonably be done,
- assign specific ACTION ITEMS toward implantation with target dates and which person(s) are responsible for execution,
- schedule as many follow up meetings as necessary to ensure that each ACTION ITEM is executed and/or to restrategize as necessary, and
- document these agreements and ACTION ITEMS with notes published within one business day and begin the next meeting reviewing the status of the ACTION ITEMS (see Meetings that Make a Difference for more).
This procedure would go a very long way toward ensuring that conferences become much more than mere mountaintop experiences. In this way, more great content can be translated into practical kingdom work.
Conference organizers tend not to provide this kind of time, I believe, because of the commendable albeit misplaced desire to maximize participants’ time by providing them with as much helpful content as possible.
But non-operationalized content is often worthless and a waste of time.
Assuming that not all conference organizers will read this post and instantly change their ways, conference participants are not impotent to affect the situation. If conference organizers have cram-packed the conference menu with one delicious content opportunity after another, teams can themselves schedule time after the conference to do this kind of strategizing. In fact, I’ll argue it’s nearly criminal not to. If the content is so good that organizations budget for airfare, hotels, food, and the conference expense itself, then the content is certainly worth being translated into results through planning and execution. If a team decides to do this, I would strongly encourage them to do it in the same locale as the conference away from the immediacy of typical work interruptions. This will also maximize the degree to which the new learnings can be taken into account while planning specific action steps for implementation. Both the knowledge and the spirit of what’s been experienced will still be fresh. If necessary, plan an extra day away for reflection and planning. It will be worth it.
As mentioned, the rhythm of learning/planning/executing is a dance that would benefit us not only in how we conference but also in what we read, what we discuss, what we listen to, etc.
What would happen if we took care to not expose ourselves to more information than we can profitably apply while at the same time carefully implementing whatever great content we do discover?