Tuesday, April 27, 2010

And the Enemy Is . . . PowerPoint!

One of the most destructive “innovations” of the past couple of decades, I have thought, is the onslaught of PowerPoint. It has destroyed subtlety and nuance in communication, has brought an end to story-telling as the heart of presentations and has ousted style and creativity for a bland cookie-cutter approach that is often as misleading as it is boring. And now we learn that it also threatens our national security.

A Page 1 article by Elisabeth Bumiller in the New York Times today examines the impact of PowerPoint on our armed forces. And it’s an ugly sight. It's "reached the level of near-obsession," becoming a major daily activity for officers at all levels. Yet, as one general says, “PowerPoint makes us stupid. … It creates the illusion of understanding and illusion of control.”

It’s not just the impenetrable charts, like this one, that are the villains, but also the lists of simplistic bullet points that reduce complications to simple assertions. Using PowerPoint "stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making."

The one time that PowerPoint slides seem effective, according to some senior officers, is when the goal is NOT to impart information – like briefing reporters. And those presentations are known as “hypnotizing chickens.”

Without PowerPoint, we would all have to write out our information and interpretation methodically, coping with the subtleties and complications, and even find a way to make the material interesting – like telling a story. Alternatively, we could learn to use the PowerPoint technology without buying into the straitjacket of its templates. That would be harder, but it could lead to actual . . . communication.

- Potomac Communications Group

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