The US military in Afghanistan and Iraq spends so much time on making and watching PowerPoint presentations that it’s become a huge problem. The New York Times has a great story on the issue.
This is interesting not just in itself but because we think it applies to pretty much any organisation that cares about productivity.
Here are some key points on PowerPoint addiction and what you can do about it:
- PowerPoint is damaging not just because it’s a drag in terms of time, but also because it creates “the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” according to Gen. H.R. McMaster. Once you’ve sketched out a problem in nice slides and bulletpoints, it feels like you’ve solved it, but actually you haven’t. Our experience with consultants makes us think this is basically dead on.
- Some junior military officers have become referred to as “PowerPoint Rangers” because they spend their time preparing slides for senior officers. One Army platoon leader in Iraq was asked what his most time-consuming task was, and he replied “PowerPoint.” He then added he wasn’t joking. How many people inside your organisation could this apply to?
- This advice is not new but worth repeating anyway: top managers like defence Secretary Robert M. Gates ask for slides printed out in advance to come prepared and cut down on meeting time.
- And here’s the worse part about this whole thing: even though everyone thinks the military’s addiction to PowerPoint is terrible, no one thinks it will go away. You don’t have to write a whole report, and you can show maps and graphs. It’s just too damn convenient. For your organisation, this means you can’t just dislike PowerPoint. You need to fight it tooth and nail.
Another interesting thing we learned reading the article: PowerPoint was not initially created by Microsoft, but acquired. As we ponder a bunch of wise or not-so-wise tech acquisitions, it’s useful to remember that some acquisitions can be enormously successful for tech companies — even if they end up wrecking the world’s productivity in the process.
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