Writing On The Wall

I’ve long held the view that the safest place to write company confidential information is on a whiteboard in a well-used meeting room.  I think this for 3 reasons:

1) Anyone coming into a room more than 5 minutes after the previous meeting has ended won’t have the faintest idea what the stuff is about; even if they were in the room when it was written up in the first place

2) Most of the time, no one is able to read the writing of whoever had the pen; I doubt the person writing it could read it 5 minutes later anyway

3) 7 times out of 10 they’ll wipe the board clean after a cursory glance to see if there’s a note saying “please leave”. The first wipe swipe has already started by the time the “please leave” note has been seen

I’ve even taken to snapping shots of whiteboards in meeting rooms dotted around the country as I travel between companies, departments, roles and engagements.  So far I’ve stayed away from posting them – despite hoping to prove the point above – lest I offend anyone.  A few weeks ago, however, I came across a board that actually broke the rules: it was clear, legible, made sense and on a flipchart (so I couldn’t wipe it off). It was, however, entirely meaningless.  I don’t think this will offend anyone, so here it is:


Apologies for the awful colour control – only after I’d taken it and left the room did I discover that my HTC Touch phone has a series of settings for photos and that if you’re taking a picture under “incandescent” or “fluorescent” light, you have to set it specifically, otherwise it comes out orange, like this photo.

The three bullets are:

* Are we out of control?

* Are we trying to be too ambitious?

* Are we taking too much risk?

Curiously there’s a tick after the first bullet.  I take this to mean “yes, we are out of control”.  There’s also a tick after the second, “yes we are trying to be too ambitious”.  There is no tick after the last bullet, so despite being out of control and overly-ambitious, perhaps the risks aren’t that great.  A helpful “x” would have made that conclusion better informed of course.  The last bullet is also in a different colour and in a different hand-writing style – perhaps two people were collaborating on this set of questions?

Sadly, there were no conclusions or actions on the sheets that followed. It’s a funny set of things to write on a flipchart – there’s no set of qualifiers or set of contributing factors or even some points to balance out the tick marks. Ever since I saw and snapped this flipchart image, I’ve been wondering what the topic of conversation was.  And often, I ponder Mario Andretti’s quote, “if everything’s under control, you aren’t going fast enough.” 

Still, you can’t believe everything that’s written down – and even the same bit of information can be reported on in several different ways. For instance, here’s a cut and paste from google news today:

Forecasters see less active 2007 hurricane season Reuters

US forecasts above-normal 2007 hurricane season Monsters and Critics.com

Hurricane forecast reduced — slightly Miami Herald

Experts Upgrade Hurricane Forecast Daily Green – 56 minutes ago

One Storm Forecaster Lowers 2007 Estimate Slightly InjuryBoard.com, FL  

And the tabloid version: Forecasters: Storm season to be busy Florida Today, FL – 1 hour ago

So, based on that sample, this year there will be either more or fewer hurricanes than normal. Buy oil if you believe more, sell if you believe fewer. Everyone’s a winner with this news story.

I’ve been through hurricanes in the past – and wouldn’t wish them on anyone, but if you must live in Florida, it’s part of the trade for great weather the rest of the year.  But here’s what the NOAA actually said


That is, there’s an 85% chance that the season will be above normal, but that versus their forecast in May they have slightly reduced the top end of their calculation for the number of hurricanes and named storms. 

They have not, however, reduced the forecast for the number of major hurricanes and that is for 50% to 150% more than “normal”.  In many ways, all the headlines are right, depending on which bit of the slide you want to focus on.


And, showing that it really is a slow news season and that you can’t believe everything you read, here’s a story that follows in the footsteps of the Sunday Sport’s famous “World War II bomber found on the Moon”:


He is, apparently, living in a Land Rover in New Zealand.

4 thoughts on “Writing On The Wall

  1. I see just two just tiny slight flaws, and I\’ll try not to digress.1. I keep picking up indeliable markers whenever I approach these things.2. Lucan was a guard, 6 foot odd, and this mad nutter in NZ is shorter than me.However, I found Gordon Brown\’s notes on the blackboard quite hilarious.

  2. I never understood why permanent markers were necessary in meeting rooms. as you say, someone always picks one up – and tests it on the whiteboard, only to find that they can\’t rub it off (hence you always see lots of short black lines on whiteboards). If whiteboard pens work just fine on flipcharts, which they do, why not just use those?As to a cult blog, you might be on to something. I\’ve thought about posting them – i even registered an appropriate domain name. I need better software that lets anyone post a snapshot though – or maybe i could do it with the idealgovernment software where you have to be invited to post; their stuff looks quite good.

  3. An old project manager, with whom I had great success, let\’s call him Rob, was a forthright Scotsman.Top bloke. Love him to bits.Some of his diagrams consisted of two or three asterisks (representing objects, systems, components, buildings, products, or literatally anything else) followed by a series of increasingly frenetic lines (representing data, hierarchical dependency, product movement, fulfillment, or cause and effect) being almost scratched into the table, or whiteboard, or flipchart between the two stars.\”It\’s f*cking simple Ian. You take your f*cking widget [-scribble an asterisk-] and you take your schmuller [-scribble second asterisk-] and you pass the f*cking data between the two [-ever increasing number of lines between the two-] it should take ten minutes. Now are we on schedule?\”(20 other people in total silence in the meeting.)\”Yes. I replied. We\’re on schedule for delivery in August.\”(20 other people in total silence in the meeting, flinching.)\”Look. Just get f*cking August out of your head. It\’s not going to f*cking happen. The deadline is f*cking June.\”(20 other people in total silence in the meeting.)\”Ok. June then.\” I said.The system went live…in early September.Ian

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