We Have Met the Enemy

… and he is PowerPoint.

A recent article in the New York Times by Elisabeth Bumiller came to my attention via Seth Godin and it is worth passing on. It discusses the degree to which PowerPoint pervades the US military and the degree to which it is spinning out of control.

What do I mean by “out of control”? Check out the slide below that was meant to portray American military strategy in Afghanistan. (And if you are feeling brave, click on it for the full, horrific effect.)

PPT Spaghetti - Small

I love the comment by General Stanley McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, upon seeing the slide: “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.” (For his sake, I hope he is wrong because it could take a long time.)

Here are some other excerpts from the article that are worth noting and that are just as relevant in the non-military world:

  • “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. … Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”
  • Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making. Not least, it ties up junior officers — referred to as PowerPoint Rangers — in the daily preparation of slides …
  • Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point. Imagine lawyers presenting arguments before the Supreme Court in slides instead of legal briefs.

So even the US military, with all its might, is not immune to the ravages of PowerPoint. I encourage you to read the entire article here.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
This entry was posted in Seth Godin, Slide Presentation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to We Have Met the Enemy

  1. Pingback: Don’t be like Twitter | Manner of Speaking

  2. tartle says:

    Arriving from Norman Wei’s site. http://nobullets.wordpress.com/2010/07/03/i-kid-you-not/

    I have seen a few horrors like this recently … you say ‘read the entire article here’ … I react and say ‘life is too short’ … which means I am not engaging in the topic … which is very dangerous!!!! … which is one way of keeping people off the topic!

  3. Is this for real?

    Aha! I’ve got it. It’s a secret weapon.

    The American military is going to fire thousands of printed copies of it into Taliban-held territory. The enemy will get so involved in trying to work it out that American soldiers will be able to over-run their positions with little or no resistance.

  4. Jack Vincent says:

    John, you keep outdoing yourself. Most of our brethren in business abuse PowerPoint to the point of dumbing it down. But when the MILITARY does it, man, it’s scary!

    Looks like we’ll be in Afghanistan a lo-o-o-o-ong time!

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