Science is Always Right

by Ron Potter

But scientists are not always right!  Even scientists have a perspective on the world that will shape the scientific data they see.

All too often I hear people refer to science as the answer that ends all arguments.  As a Christian, I especially dislike the one where Christians don’t believe in science.  I’m a Christian and I believe in science.  I’m not technically a scientist but I do have an engineering degree that depends a great deal on science.

Francis Collins might be considered this nation’s leading scientist.  He is currently the Director of the National Institute of Health (NIH) and a leader in the Human Genome Project.  Dr. Collins wrote a book titled, Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

Virtual Meetings

My point in this rambling is that we are entering a new era of virtual meetings versus face-to-face meetings.  I believe this is our future.  Many companies, especially the ones with collaboration platforms such as Webex, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and others are adding technology to improve virtual meetings.  I believe they will have a positive effect on meetings but they are also claiming that this technology will create high-performance teams.

I believe they’re missing a key point.

Tech That Aims to Improve Meetings

The Wall Street Journal recently printed an article called “Tech That Aims to Improve Meetings”.  For the article, they interviewed management experts, technologists, academics, and startup founders.  They broke the article into the following categories:

  • Who’s Paying Attention?  Worker’s posture and expressions are analyzed to determine positivity and engagement levels.
  • AI to Manage the Flow with an AI-powered moderator.  It would provide feedback, facilitate flow, monitor time, and interject if someone is getting cut off or talked over.
  • A Seat at the Table: The software would assure that the meeting includes a diverse ethnic and gender balance.
  • Immersive Presentations: Participants would use virtual-reality glasses to view materials such as PowerPoint slides and others.  The goal is to have the participants flip pages, go deeper and move their heads to flip between tables, charts, presentations, and the meeting itself, eliminating the need to flip back and forth between these things on a shared screen.
  • A Fitbit for Meetings:  In this one, each participant wears a smartwatch that analysis and tells them about their personal overall performance.
  • The Virtual Office Party: This is an attempt to provide the casual chat between participants by having their avatar hear only the voices of nearby avatars as they move around.
  • Data-Driven Collaboration:  Avatars are used in this one as well to “help” people casually talk while keeping track of personal interactions between employees to help match up people across departments when needed.

A line at the beginning of the article says “Critics say elements of tools under discussion raise concerns about worker privacy and may face resistance as being too intrusive.”  I think if they had explored this one point further the conclusion may be that none of this technology will work because workers will find it too intrusive.

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

At the same time that WSJ article appeared, I was also reading The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle.  I found the contrast between the two documents striking.  While the WSJ article may be focused on running meetings more efficiently, that does not translate into higher performance.   In The Culture Code, it’s stated that the highly successful groups talk about relationships.  There isn’t much in the WSJ article that talks about relationships.

One section of the books talks about patterns of interaction:

“When I visited these groups, I noticed a distinct pattern of interaction. The pattern was located not in the big things but in little moments of social connection:

Close physical proximity, often in circles

    • Profuse amounts of eye contact
    • Physical touch (handshakes, fist bumps, hugs)
    • Lots of short, energetic exchanges (no long speeches)

High levels of mixing

    • everyone talks to everyone
    • Few interruptions
    • Lots of questions
    • Intensive, active listening
    • Humor, laughter
    • Small, attentive courtesies (thank-yous, opening doors, etc.)

One more thing: I found that spending time inside these groups was almost physically addictive.”

MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab

There is also an interview with Alex Pentland who runs MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab.  He said:

“If I lean a few inches closer to you, we might begin mirroring.  It only works if we’re close enough to physically touch.”

Pentland says that words are noise.  Group performance depends on behavior that communicates one powerful overarching idea:  We are safe and connected.

Safe and Connected

All the technology currently available or available in the foreseeable future may in fact make meetings more productive.  However, I currently don’t see any that help people feel safe and connected.  This will be the challenge for the near future.


In the app we’re developing, we do get at the issues that help people feel safe and connected such as trust and relationships.  But it will still require the participants to take corrective action and make changes when the data indicates these are a problem.

Star participants and leaders of the future will be good at this!

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