Categorized | Management

PowerPoint makes us stupid…

…I didn’t say it. A General in the Marines said it. Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander to be exact. He was quoted in a story on the US Military and its use of PowerPoint earlier this week in the New York Times:

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

(Actually, the comments section is really interesting.  There are over 700 comments on the topic and they’re pretty fierce and informative about PPT and its use in business and military circles.)

We’ve talked before about how deadly PPT can be to a presentation and about paring down slides to their essence, but this is a whole new angle.  The US military, according to the article, is using PPT to actually communicate complex ideas internally.  In other words, they aren’t just giving an engaging concept of what the plans are, they are delivering plans in this manner.  So it’s not just a summary — it’s the plan itself.

Many officers defend the practice, saying that it’s easier to create slides than to write a brief to communicate strategy.  Many companies take the same view.  It’s the old “no one reads anything any more”.  That’s true.  However, it can be difficult to actually communicate a complex strategy in a few bullet points.  You wouldn’t want your house built with a PowerPoint and not a blueprint, right?  Don’t let PPT replace a written document or strategy.

So what replaces it?

Personal communication is still a great way to gather ideas.  Whether it’s a brainstorming session or a more formal presentation, taking away PowerPoint can actually get you information more quickly and concisely.  Written reports are also not a bad way of communicating.  And asking for more details is probably not a bad idea.  Again, that can be done personally:  “You say on page 7 that we’re going to grow these three markets, but how?”

The New York Time piece also points out something that many companies don’t consider:  the amount of time it takes to produce all of these presentations.  PowerPoint turns us all into graphic designers and gives the illusion of productivity when little may be there.

It’s true, the program does have its place.  If you need to give a presentation, and you must convey information visually, it can supplement a great oral presentation.  But to coin another military phrase, it does have the potential for mission creep.

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Tim McPherson

By Tim McPherson

Tim McPherson, President and COO for Nesco Resource, has over 27 years of experience in all facets of the Staffing Services Industry.

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