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Sharon drew a line across the giant white board. Then, she drew one down the left side.

“What we need is a matrix,” she said. It sounded like a pretty good idea. “We’ll put the messages we need to send across the top, and the people we need to talk to on the side.”

We watched. Mesmerized. Afraid.

She scrawled the eight programs our senior management had dictated in the meeting earlier in the day across the top of the board. It was a large white board, spanning the entire west wall of the conference room. It had been installed for moments like this. Those times when confusion must yield to clarity.

This was its destiny.

“Who do we need to talk to?” She shouted at the room.

“Millennials,” Bob responded. He always suggested millennials.

“No!” she barked at him. “I’m talking about our customers.”

“Oh,” he sank back into his swivel chair.

“Business’s,” I offered.

“All of them?” She asked.

“I suppose we could break them into small and large. Maybe a special group for those that adopted the program early.”

“Fantastic!” she was pumped. A clean white board inspired her. She wrote out the potential audiences with aggression. Stabbing the dry erase marker against the board, leaving streaks at the termination point of each letter.

Others threw out suggestions. Residential and urban. Income brackets. Demographic breakdowns based on research data that had been layered on top of our existing repository of customer information.

Sharon stepped away and admired her matrix. Busting at the seams with audiences and messages, but empty in the middle.

“So,” she smiled, “who gets what message.” Her eyes lit up. “Where can we COMBINE messages.”

X’s started appearing faster than seemed humanly possible, as she matched audiences with the messages they might respond to. A new color was needed to rope together messages that could be sent together, and audiences that overlapped soon got another color.

Suddenly, there were arrows and a few stars. What was once a quiet and pristine blank slate now looked like something a toddler might do to the walls if left unattended for too long.

“Somebody take a picture,” Sharon said, proudly. “We need to document this.”

Three people eagerly jumped up with their phones at the ready. They maneuvered around each other clumsily, desperate for an angle that would let them capture the massive matrix in a single shot.

I was casually assigned the lower left quadrant to work on. Soon, we all left, satisfied that we had wrangled out of thin air a variety of tasks that would populate next Monday’s status report.

And as the dry erase ink faded over the weekend, the whiteboard wept.


Photo credit: Mark Kaletka via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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