How to Take Meeting Notes Better Than Appleby@xembly
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How to Take Meeting Notes Better Than Apple

by XemblyMarch 5th, 2024
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Xembly's AI, Xena, can pull the action items from the meeting and then suggest attendees to whom those action items can be delegated, creating tasks for their task lists. This turns the AI executive assistant into more of an AI project manager, again producing further efficiency gains for the team. You can even integrate directly into Salesforce or HubSpot and have the AI update records for you. AI unlocks a whole new world of meeting management.
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If any of us in our businesses can be better than Apple at any specific thing, no matter how niche, I'm sure we would try to take advantage of this opportunity.

It appears Steve Jobs had a preference for how meetings should be undertaken. And he believed this approach to meetings produced the best results, allowing people to engage more seriously and more carefully with the topics being discussed. However, there have been drawbacks to this approach of meetings, as we'll cover in the article.

But the advent of new AI note-taking technologies has created an unexpected opening for the kind of meetings Steve Jobs envisioned while mitigating virtually all the downsides of this approach.

This isn't really about how to take meetings now better than Apple. This is really about bringing Steve Jobs' vision of effective meetings to life.

Let's dive in.

How Steve Jobs Approached Meeting Notes

A slight storm had been caused among tech Twitter and tech Threads the other week. The user, Darius, who claims to have worked directly with Steve Jobs, has made some bold statements about meetings, how we approach them, and what Steve Jobs thought. The offending tweet in question is detailed below.

Darius positions himself as a sort of oracle of Jobs' knowledge, able to translate the great man's thoughts into business lessons for work and life in the modern age. The big claim here is that you shouldn't take notes in meetings.

It's not just Steve Jobs who has peculiar approaches to meetings. Jeff Bezos recently appeared on Lex Fridman’s podcast where he talked about how he established a culture of meetings within Amazon. It was based around the memo format. In Jeff Bezos's ideal meeting, the memo for the meeting is written before the meeting.

It is long, written in narrative form, not simply bullet points, and can take multiple pages. While attendees are free to read the memo before the meeting, there isn't an expectation to do so. Instead, the first part of the meeting is spent with everyone in a team silently reading the memo.

According to Bezos, this can take up to half an hour of an hour-long meeting. He says doing it this way works best because it means that everyone has carved out time for the meeting and no one is pretending to know what the topic is.

It means everyone can fully engage in the discussion the meeting was intended to stimulate. We can find Steve Jobs' approach in this context. If you have people together in a meeting, they are not being productive doing other things.

So, you should be aiming to get maximum productivity out of them in that meeting. And what is the maximum productivity that can be brought out in a meeting? Is it communicating an idea?

No, not really. You can do that with an email. It's about discussing ideas, engaging in discourse, analyzing each other's thoughts, with multiple people bringing things to the table, each interrogating and building upon the ideas presented.

And in order to do that effectively, in order for everyone involved in the meeting to contribute to their fullest and engage intellectually to the maximum extent they can, they shouldn't be distracted by either a lack of knowledge or by having to take extensive meeting notes.

Why We Shouldn’t Take Notes in Meetings

So, why shouldn't we take notes in meetings? I'm very sympathetic to this view because taking notes in meetings is one of a litany of activities that can distract someone from what is being said, especially in the era of remote work.

It's especially common for people to try to do other things while they're in the meeting, like completing other tasks, sending an email to somebody else, generally trying to be productive and get stuff done, feeling like it's not lost time.

People think they're doing good things when they do this. They think they are setting a good example, but they're not. If they don't need to be in the meeting, then they shouldn't be in the meeting. If they should be in the meeting, then they should be present and engaged.

And if everyone is taking notes, then it feels like everyone is slightly distracted. This produces a general distraction. But there's also value in noting that more junior employees are often tasked with the responsibility of keeping and updating valuable notes.

While this can be a useful task to introduce someone to if they have no other context to the meeting, if they do have some engagement with the topics of the meeting, having to take notes stops them from being able to participate and present their ideas or make observations of their own.

There is also a gendered side to this. I've been in meetings where the organized person in the meeting is a woman and because they are organized, they end up falling into the default role of minute taker, while one of the guys gets to take on the role of idea guy.

As Tracy Warner, a marketing operations leader and consultant, describes the gendered elements of this experience to me:

“There’s a known and well-documented gender bias with note taking. Many of the tasks that are getting captured by AI fall into these often mundane, typically female categories of work: coordinating the meetings, taking the notes, capturing action items, sharing those with the team.”

Meeting notes are obstacles to engaging in the meeting. The ideal meeting would allow everyone to remain 100% focused on the discussion at hand with equal opportunity for all to participate and contribute as they see fit. This is what Jobs believed. And it's a very enticing view.

How much more productive would we all be if we could maximize the benefit of the discussions we have in meetings so we don't need to have more meetings? We can get more done so that we don't have to do yet more work.

What’s Wrong With This Policy?

While the approach of not taking notes in meetings is intriguing, it isn't perfect. The very simple and obvious problem is that someone does need to take some notes. Otherwise, how are we going to remember what we thought, talked about, agreed on, or what action items were recorded?

In any workplace, it's very common for people to find that they've attended a meeting where no one took notes, and as a result, things didn't get done and there's no shared concept of what occurred in the meeting.

Beyond these obvious productivity considerations, there's the fact that everyone engages with and retains information differently. For some, like myself, having a long, free-form discussion is super valuable and a great way to learn and engage with ideas, still having a rough idea of things at the end to take action on.

For others, when something is mentioned, it's very beneficial for them to quickly jot that down. It helps to reinforce that memory in their mind, not simply because it's written down, but because the process of writing it down helps them remember it better.

People simply differ in how they absorb information. Add to that, there are more extreme versions of this need to write things down or to engage more carefully with things. This might be related to neurodivergence, slight memory issues, or simply being easily distracted, as many people with ADHD or similar can experience.

The downsides to not recording any meeting notes seem painfully apparent. While many meetings do occur without the effective use of meeting notes, almost all important meetings will have someone taking those notes. It's not simply best practice; it's an obvious thing to do. In fact, in some circumstances, it can be legally required.

How Can We Take Notes Better Than Apple?

So, what's the synthesis here? Well, it's AI.

You do not need to spend your time in the meeting taking notes if you know the AI has been taking notes for you. Either your AI has taken those notes, or the AI of the person who hosted the meeting has. The AI then automatically shares those notes at the end of the meeting with all the attendees.

Then, everyone can have a copy of what was discussed, beyond simply a transcription of the meeting.

Powerful AI executive assistant software like Xembly can give each attendee a summarized version of the meeting that doesn't include extraneous details like Gary's five-minute story at the beginning about his sister's wedding. It's also possible to collaboratively edit the meeting notes at the end of the meeting in case there's anything else someone wanted to add or specify.

This creates a sense of shared truth within the organization, as everyone has copies of what was said and what was decided upon in the meeting, and each person was able to contribute without impacting their own productivity.

Using an approach like this allows each person to remain 100% focused on the content of the meeting and to discuss each item freely without having to worry about their note-taking responsibilities.

This can produce added efficiency gains for each and every meeting, resulting in a cumulative large gain in productivity. Companies can save eight hours a week per person by using Xembly, but it's not just about meeting notes. With modern tech, you can go beyond the notes themselves.

Xembly's AI, Xena, can pull the action items from the meeting and then suggest attendees to whom those action items can be delegated, creating tasks for their task lists. This turns the AI executive assistant into more of an AI project manager, again producing further efficiency gains for the team.

You can even integrate directly into Salesforce or HubSpot and have the AI update records for you. AI unlocks a whole new world of meeting management.

If you combine all of this with other standard approaches that technology can enable now, like sharing a recording of the meeting for people to view (permission dependent), you can create a massive sense of transparency and shared knowledge in your team.

You go from wanting to emulate Steve Jobs to actively emulating Ray Dalio and his principles of shared truth and radical transparency.

By utilizing new technology you can make work better, organization more cohesive, and make the experience more inclusive - as we’ve seen across grounds of seniority, neurodivergence, and gender. It’s not the first technological step forward to automate elements of our lives, and it won’t be the last. With automation comes change and opportunity - as Tracy said to me:

“I find administrative automation akin to the invention of the washing machine for women… as you take away the busy work of life, you free yourself for more important things. It’s no surprise that women began to enter the workforce as domestic work became increasingly automated.”

Xembly is the only AI executive assistant designed from the ground up for enterprises, with a deep feature set and regulatory compliance built in, so give it a try and start taking your meeting notes better than Apple.