BLOCK THE ‘PASSENGER’
Beware the Intruder Hijacking Your Meetings

Al Pittampalli addresses NIH audience.
Al Pittampalli addresses NIH audience.

Ever wonder why so many meetings are so unproductive? Chances are good an uninvited guest has been riding shotgun. Turns out this unseen hitchhiker loves to sabotage your well-organized, well-intentioned workplace gatherings.

At a recent Deputy Director for Management seminar, author and business advisor Al Pittampalli, who has studied meetings for the past decade, introduced a Masur Auditorium audience to this invisible, yet powerful saboteur he calls “the passenger.”

Surveys estimate that anywhere from 25 percent to 50 percent of all meetings are unproductive, Pittampalli said. People report they feel that as much as half the time they spend in meetings is wasted. By a show of hands, NIH audience members nearly unanimously confirmed—perhaps humorously, perhaps not so much—that they’d attended at least one meeting that had made them reconsider their life’s purpose.

“Nothing can ever take the place of human beings getting in a room together to talk things out,” Pittampalli acknowledged. “Meetings are at the heart of how we communicate, how we collaborate, how we decide on the most important issues facing the organization. If that’s weak, then it’s hard to fulfill the mission of the organization. I’m here to tell you the meeting is weak.”

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Buck’s Research Helps Unravel Mysteries of Scent

Dr. Linda Buck
Dr. Linda Buck

The sense of smell is extremely important in everyday life. It can, for example, warn us of danger or alert us to the presence of food. Thanks to researchers like Dr. Linda Buck, scientists can now better learn how smell works.

“Through the sense of smell, humans and other mammals can detect a vast array of chemicals in the environment,” said Buck, Nobel laureate (2004) and full member of the basic sciences division at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, at the annual Margaret Pittman Lecture recently in Masur Auditorium.

Smell is governed by the olfactory system, which she notes “is characterized by exquisite sensitivity and discriminatory power.” Certain odors trigger changes in reproductive and stress hormones or cause instinctive aggressive or fearful behavior.

“All of these so-called odorants are small molecules, but somehow they are perceived as having different odors based on their different structures,” she explained. If the molecular structure of an odorant changes—even slightly—the perception changes. That’s why pear and banana odorants, for instance, have similar molecular structures but don’t smell the same.

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