They say that we spend one-third of our lives sleeping, but I’m a Mom, so I’m probably more in the twenty percent range. When one of my daughters was sick recently (and it was the seventeen-year-old, so don’t kid yourself that this mothering thing is a short-term gig), my rate moved down to ten percent at best, given the number of late-night trips downstairs for tea and cool forehead cloths.
If my sleeping percentage is below average, though, the amount of hours I’ve whiled away in conference rooms is way above the norm. Somewhere out there are landscapers and mailmen and astronauts, people whose careers give them precious little time to count the holes in the drywall ceiling while we’re waiting for everyone to dial in on the Polycom. I, sadly, am not one of those free-range sorts.
I’ve spent a pallor-creating allotment of my days in tiny agency conference rooms with old DDB ads pinned to the wall (soon to go out of business), tech-bubble startup conference rooms with 12-foot-long tables made of rainforest teak (soon to go out of business), and lots and lots of meeting spaces in between – usually sad and frumpy locations, with fraying carpet squares, drawersful of take-out ketchup packets, geriatric potted palms, and not one working pen on the premises.
Every business meeting, no matter what its ostensible purpose, usually has a stock cast of characters right out of an Agatha Christie novel: the person who doesn’t want to be there, the person who doesn’t know why she’s there, the person who keeps thinking, (eventually, aloud) that there is no damn way we are going to get all of this done by Thursday.
And, if the meeting is high-level enough, there is always, always a Juicy Marker Man.
I recently had the honour of my presence requested in the premises of a customer’s conference room, so I pulled out the navy blue suit and headed across town for a presentation planning meeting. The room was filling up as I took my seat, and then Juicy Marker Man strode in, late, running a hand through his well-cut hair.
My heart, it sank.
If I have spent twenty percent of my life sleeping, I’ve spent another good twenty percent looking at the backside of some generic business-tron as he seizes a blank flip chart page and writes, and writes, and dear Jesus is he still writing?
There is always one guy who wants nothing more than to commandeer room’s only juicy marker and conduct a lesson for the assemblage on How Simple This All Really Is, just look at this scribble I’m doing now and see for yourself, kids. The poor schlubs on the other end of the telephone conference line can only guess at what’s going on by the squeak of dry erase on whiteboard. And there the rest of us are, looking at a bunch of squares and arrows, with the occasional oval thrown in for comic relief. The most maddening part of the exercise is when, still enjoying the thrill of attention, the guy begins to draw over and over the squares he’s already created, like a game of Pictionary gone horribly awry.
Forget your smartphones and your iPads. Here, twelve years into the start of a new century, there is still a race of men whose hearts beat a little faster when they walk into a room a spy a fresh box of Mr. Sketch.
And yes, in case you were wondering, it is always Juicy Marker Man. I have never yet met a woman who cares about having other people watch as she creates geometrically precise recreations of Program Structure and The Difference Between a Feature and a Benefit. If you men ever wonder what we do when we’re in meetings that happen to be exclusively female, I’ll let you in on a secret: We get stuff done, collectively, and without anyone needing to make a lot of mess on the walls.
Last week, watching this guy create a hundred lable-less shapes that were supposed to lead us all to Kaizen-like levels of clarity, I looked around at all the women in the room. Here we were, getting high on the fumes as another guy 'splained it all to us. I had a sudden sympathy for my Paleolithic fore-women, stuck in some dumpy cave in El Castillo, Spain, about 40,000 years ago. And then I realized -- those cave paintings weren’t for religious or ceremonial purposes. It was just the guy who’d found the juiciest bit of ochre in the room, filling up the walls with his great wisdom, while all the cavewomen just wondered when his brush would dry out and they could get back to work.