Pre-commitment and meta at the Cambridge UK meetup

by rebellionkid 1 min read29th Apr 201214 comments


At today's Cambridge UK meetup I made an observation: It seems that LW meetups are very good at having meta-discussions. But they are not so good at acting effectively on them.

The point of meta discussion is to make object level discussion better. The meta questions aren't themselves interesting and dont automatically produce win. Object level discussions are themselves interesting and do produce win (if not then stop talking about boring things). So if one has a meta discussion it should be such that the improvements made to the object level discussions outweigh the cost of the meta discussion.

I notice we have meta discussions which (like a lot of discussions in LW groups) dont resolve themselves into actions. This means that improvements to the meetups aren't in fact implemented. This is a double fail: first because the object level discussion isn't improved, and second because the unresolved meta took resources away from the body of the meeting.

We could cheaply improve this with the internet. Doodle polls solve the problem of when to schedule a meeting far more efficiently than verbal discussion. Likewise the time-consuming question of "what shall we talk about" can be thought about outside the meeting where there are far fewer constraints on time. Both these problems should be outsourced to the google group and not mentioned in the meeting itself.

A point that was raised is that it is very easy for the group to decide that such and such a thing must be done, that does not automatically translate into the actions of specific people. Someone mentioned the parable of the rabbi raising funds, and we started the following pre-commitment game. 

The Napkin

We got out a napkin and Douglas drew a table of "who, what, by when" on it. He was the first to write down a commitment so as to overcome everyone's reluctance to be the first to act. We then went round and asked for commitments that would be made public in front of the group. I'm now posting those commitments online.

  • Douglas: "Post a meeting format to discussion" Wednesday midnight
  • Paul: "Kahneman AD/BC* example on LW wiki" Thursday midnight
  • Paul: "David Styles" Monday midnight
  • Adam: "Post this list, post on meta/object interaction" Wednesday midnight
  • Jonathan: "Directions to JCR" Tuesday midnight
  • Ben: "Keep diary for 1 week, identify biases" next Sunday
*(did I read that right? edit: no I didn't)
 The case of Ben is worth commenting on. At the end of the meeting as everyone was walking out the room I made to fold the list away and shouted "last chance to commit to anything if you want to", Ben took this opportunity to sign up when he had not done so before in the meeting. This may be a generally useful technique.
Those at the meeting: have you completed your task? 

What are easy ways to overcome the reluctance of people to be the first to act?

How can we have meta-discussions that are targeted at concrete actions?