Stand and deliver – Around the world

Stand and deliver - Around the world

Osaka, Japan: Are you one of those people who attends a lot of meetings?

Are you a believer that he or she who controls the flip chart controls the room? Do you spend your time standing up waving that magic-marker around, with carefully contrived leadership-type gestures? You are?

Well, you will probably have noticed that while you end a marathon meeting session exhausted by all that standing up, writing and posturing, the others – in their “decision-makers” chairs – are in a lot better shape than you are.

But worry no more, down in Japan I’ve discovered just the thing for you – a complete, system-built stand-up meeting room, with special, ergonomically designed furniture, that makes everyone in the meeting stand up until it’s over.

Sound unlikely? Well next time you’re in Osaka, stop by the Kokuyo office furniture factory (1-1 Oimazato Minami 6-chome, Higashinari-ku) and they’ll show it to you.

Now you might imagine that this idea has serious oriental overtones, like “Confucius say, standing up in meetings make feet go to sleep, sitting down in meetings make brain go to sleep”. Not so. The clever Japanese may be manufacturing it – and it is reportedly selling like hot sake in the smart offices of Tokyo and Yokohama – but the idea came from across the Pacific.

Let’s face it, where do totally kooky ideas get created – California of course! This one emanates from the wonderfully titled Attention and Motor Performance Laboratory at the University of Southern California. There, Dr Max Vercruyssen and a team of researchers dreamt up the idea and the Japanese decided it was just what every executive large or small, fat or thin needed.

As consultants tend to be – or like to think they are – the trendsetters in new fads and fashions, this one is an outright winner. It has virtually zero installation costs, it isn’t that expensive, it is fully adjustable and highly portable. Moreover it can impress the hell out of people – whether in a positive or negative way I am not quite sure.

“It makes for better conferences and meetings,” claim its makers, “and provides a new and effective style by making the most of psychological and physical effects felt during discussions.” There’s not a management consultant in the west who could have put that better.

And they go even further. Their promotional literature waxes lyrical: “The system is ideal for brainstorming as the stand-up posture makes all the participants the presenter and the personal, mobile table gives members the impression that they are standing at a lectern, so they respond to other opinions quickly.”

It really makes you want to rush out a buy a couple of dozen sets today, doesn’t it ?

Dr Vercruyssen says: “Research data from our laboratory shows that a person’s information processing speed accelerates between 5 and 20 per cent for several tasks involving rapid decision-making when they are standing up as compared to sitting.”

It also increases the focus of attention, which – according to Kokuyo – leads to shorter meetings as well as an ability to move around more easily, which improves interaction.

Seems to me that someone could run a seminar on how to use the stuff properly – the Japanese will never think of that. Gadgets are the forte of the land of the rising sun; expensive, dubious, trendy seminars are a management aberration that only the west seems able to get away with.

But, as with any other crazy idea there are going to be a lot of buyers out there, I’ll bet my stand-up lectern on that.

Banjul, The Gambia: When new trends sweep through business the last place to get with it is Africa. “Good gracious,” said a friend of mine, “they’ve still got telexes.”

Well they may still have telexes but they have also discovered the World Wide Web and the triple-W fad is beginning to get some play down here where the days are long, the sun is hot and the people friendly. In fact, so nice is the coastline of West Africa that the odd consultant is putting down temporary roots here. A few weeks ago two German financial consultants were semi-vacationing but keeping the deals for their clients going all the same. “My key client thinks I’m sweating in my Frankfurt office,” said one, ” and long may he continue to think that.”

Further down the white sand, palm-fringed beach, a management consultant from Sweden was paddling in the surf during a lunchtime break from creating a systems and procedures manual for a client. “I stay in touch with the office through e-mail,” he says, “download and work with what I need each morning, upload it every afternoon – and I get a lot more done.”

Thanks to a modern French telecommunications system The Gambia, like its neighbouring French colonial cousin Senegal, is a fully paid-up member of cyberspace. Just six hours from the rainy, noisy, commuter chaos of Europe’s cities, it makes a great place to get some real work done at least until it becomes mandatory for all of us to have video conferencing on all our PCs. By then, though, the Japanese will be selling an assortment of three-dimensional backgrounds that you can assemble in the comfort of your hotel room and put your portable, stand-up meeting lectern in front of.

Mike Johnson is president of Johnson & Associates, a corporate communications firm in Brussels and author of Managing in the Next Millennium.

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